16th November issue

Off the scale

The Prof Nutt row is obscuring the real issues.

The row over sacking Professor David Nutt has become intensely personal, to the point where media commentary and the stampede to take sides have obscured the issues at the heart of the debate. But whatever conflicts the home secretary perceived between Prof Nutt’s role as ACMD chair and his right to speak frankly about government classification of drugs, the furore shouldn’t deter us from confronting the issues he raised (pages 4 and 10). How we perceive drug harms not only affects legislation – as we have seen from former home secretary Jacqui Smith’s statement that she needed to take into account public perception in the decision to upgrade cannabis to class B last year – but at a much wider level it affects our use of all drugs, including alcohol. Prof Nutt has become increasingly vocal about his intention to highlight the risks of our ‘safe’ legal drugs as much as to downplay the relative risks of some illegal drugs – the side of the argument that most popular media have got hold of and which became the big stick with which to beat him.

DDN’s readership needs no convincing of alcohol harms, as this issue’s news pages demonstrate once again. The Priory Group’s survey (page 5) shows an astonishing level of ignorance about safe alcohol consumption limits. Would better education as part of a credible debate on all substances improve this situation? Who knows – it’s not clear at the moment whether we will ever get past the government’s own scale of harm, which many researchers are condemning as antiquated and irrelevant.

We have to be able to challenge received wisdom, which is why we’ve featured one of the most popular support mechanisms for recovery, in our cover story. While the 12-step self-help fellowships clearly work for many people, we isolate a particular group for whom they may do more harm than good. We’d be extremely interested in hearing your views.

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