June 23, 2015, by Andrew Gibson

Royal Society’s silence on drugs law ‘failing science’ (Adam Smith @CirclingTheSquare2)

The national academies should front a campaign calling for the protection of research into psychoactive substances in the face of a proposed law that seeks to curb their use, a leading drugs policy expert warns.

David Nutt, director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College London, said the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences are too quiet on the government’s proposals to ban psychoactive substances. “If the act goes through with no protection for scientific research they will have failed science,” he told delegates at Circling the Square 2015, a conference on science and society at the University of Nottingham.

Nutt was speaking as the government’s psychoactive substances bill is taking its legislative journey through parliament. It is due to be debated at committee stage in the House of Lords on 23 June before debates in the House of Commons. The bill seeks to control ‘legal highs’, substances that produce the same, or similar, effects to drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy, but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Writing in The Guardian on 8 June, Nick Davis, lecturer in psychology at Swansea University, also called on the government to exempt research use of psychoactive substances from the bill.

Nutt was sacked as chairman of the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009 after he criticised politicians for “distorting” and “devaluing” research evidence in the debate over drugs. He has since continued to argue against government decisions that go against research evidence on medical harms and social effects—something that, he argues, the national academies are reluctant to get involved in.

“I would very much like a strong campaign by these organisations,” said Nutt, who is lobbying the government on the Psychoactive Substances Bill through Drug Science, a group he helped to establish. The group opposes the bill as disproportionate and harmful,, but is recommending that, if it does go through, it should contain exemptions for research purposes. Nutt said both the Academy of Medical Sciences, of which he is a fellow, and the Royal Society are reluctant to campaign on this front.

“The problem is they don’t want to associate themselves with me because there’s a sense I’m seen as a troublemaker by government,” said Nutt, adding that they may be lobbying discretely although there is no evidence of this.

Nutt added that he frequently asks the national academies to oppose drugs bans that threaten research but that “nothing happens”.

In 2014, when the government decided to put stricter controls on ketamine and ban ketamine-like substances, Nutt says, the Royal Society told him that they didn’t campaign around drugs. “The problem is that drugs aren’t seen as a scientific issue,” he said.


This article was originally published here on ResearchProfessional.com for subscribers.


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