My resignation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

I  resigned from the ACMD yesterday as a result of my grave concerns and misgivings about the processes we went through at our meeting this week and more generally about the lack of logic and sometimes morality in what we’re required to do.  I originally put myself forward as a member of the ACMD because I thought my substantial experience working in the drugs field would be useful. I believed that I might help influence the Council to think more broadly about its remit, so as to make public policy more effective in understanding the reasons why young people are increasingly attracted to drugs and to support the development of effective interventions to prevent and reduce harm. 

My main interest and competence is in the field of prevention and early intervention with young people.  I have grown increasingly disillusioned not only with the lack of attention paid to this generally by politicians and media but also by the ACMD’s apparent lack of interest in the subject (with a few individual exceptions). Since joining ACMD, I have played an active part in the ‘Pathways to Problems’ review process and enabled engagement of young people. I also spent a significant amount of time in helping to draft the recent response to the DCSF’s new draft guidance on Drugs Education in Schools. However, it is clear that ACMD is far more interested in analysing the chemistry of one drug as opposed to another and making decisions in relation to the potential pharmaceutical harms of one drug compared to another, rather than helping to improve our understanding of why young people use drugs and how we might intervene to prevent and/or reduce harm.  This was evident by the lack of attention paid this week by ACMD members to the report on ‘Pathways to Problems’ and also by the decision-making process we went through to make Mephedrone the latest banned substance. 

 The latter process has left me deeply concerned, intellectually insulted and morally compromised. I contributed little to the discussion on Monday, confused and disillusioned that our focus was not on what we should recommend to understand and influence young people’s behaviour so as to prevent and/or reduce harm. Rather, we made a decision to ban this, the currently most publicly demonised drug, based mainly on its chemical similarities to other Class B substances. If that was the main criterion, how could one not agree with the decision?  The problem is that the context of and rationale for our decision-making is a nonsense. What next?  How many more new drugs are we going to ban, without an adequate evidence base about the impact of banning on young people’s behaviour re-use of drugs? Do we just keep on going? Rather than banning each new drug that comes along, we need to shift resources into social research about young people’s behaviours, how to influence them and investment in interventions to support demand reduction. In terms of research, the Home Office Blueprint project was intended to help but ended in farce, vagueness and obfuscation, costing, I believe £6-7 million in the process; I don’t think the final cost was publicised. They were, never, however, held to account by ACMD as the subject fell off our agenda as a result of the David Nutt sacking issue.  And then the banning of Mephedrone took precedence…

 I’ve just been working with some young people who, honestly and seriously, told me that Cannabis, with all its risks, made them feel better about themselves, more able to assess their personal agency, manage their lives and feel more hopeful about the future. My current feeling is that the ACMD, with our focus on chemistry and legality, doesn’t contribute anything towards reducing the countless harms young people like these experience on a daily basis, including though not limited to harms from drug use.  Moreover, we are colluding in the sustenance of a system which may in fact disadvantage even further some of the most disadvantaged people in our society.

 When, as Home Secretary, Charles Clarke announced his intention to review the entire drugs classification system, I welcomed it and was disappointed when the idea was subsequently shelved. I believe this needs to be revisited. We need to refocus on drugs as a Public Health issue, rather than a Criminal Justice issue. We need to review our entire approach, dumping the idea that legally-sanctioned punishments for drug users should constitute a main part of the armoury in helping to solve our society’s drug problems. We also need to stop causing the harms we have undoubtedly caused to many who have needed help and support rather than punishment.  I do not underestimate the risks and complexity associated with such a radical change but this does not make it any less urgent or necessary.

At the end of last year, I decided not to resign over the David Nutt affair, preferring instead to see how things panned out and to hope that the ACMD could develop a work programme which would help prevent and reduce harm. However, I have now decided that I cannot continue to sit on a committee which is complicit in taking part in processes which are not only illogical in many ways but which also, by enabling the criminalisation of ever greater numbers of young people who require support rather than punishment, may even do more harm than good.

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23 responses to “My resignation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

  1. I will comment further later – I applaud your integrity and commitment to the real issues. May I just note that although it was David Blunkett at the centre of the cannabis classification issue; it was in fact Charles Clarke who promised a review of the classification system. The report that was commissioned by him was supressed by the Home Office, but has recently been orderred by the ICO for release to Casey Hardison of the Drug Equality Alliance.

  2. We are so pleased to read this, and for another voice of reason to be added into the debate. We are campaigning in Scotland for an open and honest debate on the subject, and ultimately for regulation and control, following the drug related death of a family member
    Best Wishes
    Jolene and Katrina

  3. I wish more people were as brave and honest as you, Mr. Carlin.

    We need a government willing to be as equally brave and honest. We’re not going to get one though, as politicians will continue to pander to the Daily Mail mentality of prohibition and punishment, rather than seeking to do good by reducing harm, including the harm caused by senseless, pointless drug laws.

  4. Sara Mcgrail

    Well said eric.

  5. Sarah Walden

    Eric,

    Whilst I was pleased to see your stance on medical, educational and therapeutic intervention as opposed to criminalisation, I was depressed to see that yet again we are losing another voice of reason in a place where voices of reason are needed most. I understand your position entirely – when, despite our best efforts, ‘the system’ overrides all common sense, it is frustrating and depressing. I hope your resignation will have an effect, i.e. that the ACMD will consider its approach and perhaps modify it, but I suspect that it will continue in its own sweet way without a thought to your opinion or even your reasons for leaving. My fear is that, as more like-minded people of influence are disillusioned enough to jump ship, then bodies like the ACMD will continue unchallenged. We need people like you, Eric, to continue to champion (as I said earlier) the voice of reason. I hope you will be able to continue to influence in your other work, and I wish you well.

  6. Pingback: Scottish Socialist Youth » Another government expert resigns over Mephedrone

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  8. Eric,
    Thank you so much for publicising your feelings and alerting us to the ACMD’s focus as influenced by the government. I’m currently researching our failed drug policy and it is refreshing to read an honest account of what is REALLY happening. I hope you don’t mind me referring to your comments in my undergrad essay and hope that one day we will develop a rational evidence-based drug policy, as opposed to relying on populist rhetoric…I just wonder how many more “designer drugs” will be created and subsequently banned before that day comes.

  9. I would just like to say how much I admire your for your honesty Eric – it’s just a pity not everybody is like you! This government is far too happy to pander to the tabloid press when it comes to this issue and does not take enough notice of professional opinion – I mean, what is the point in having an Advisory Council if you are: a) going to attempt to railroad them, and b) ignore their views when given???

  10. Hi,

    I would like to firstly applaud your stance to maintain reason within politics. However, I am a student at Bournemouth University – I am a 3rd year Psychology student – therfore, I have begun to understand the totally destructive effect even legal medical drugs can have on the human mind and body.

    In a social scene, Bournemouth is renound for the availability of drugs and I have seen many friends using mephadrone BECAUSE it is legal. They have been violently ill, suddenly depressed and with those who I have seen use this drug more than once, their character has changed. One person I know is dropping out of uni when he’s expecting a first. He has become very addicted – if he can get meth he will supply with any other drugs, toxic paints, cocaine, cannabis – all to prevent the downs and feelings of suicide and depression he now feels if he’s clean for more than a day. He has lost 3 stone in weight and it looks like he has been punched in the face and he doesn’t sleep for days at a time he also has such mood swings he tried to hit me with a bottle when I asked for the money for rent.

    While research into the full effects of drugs must have clinical procedures, tests and no pressure from the political system -I cannot and will not endorse or support any foundation that resigns to protect the unknown dangers to the youth of today or prevent turning them to criminals.

    I believe that a proposal for the “quarantine” of drugs, while research done, meaning it is illegal to take the drug, but the offense constitutes mild punishment or warnings. Then once the medical verticts have been reached determine whether it should be banned or legalised. Then there would be no pressure for outright bans if the system can remain respected and without influence from politics.

    While admirable what you standfor, every week wasted I see my friends, getting sicker and more vulnerable due to the cheap avaliablity of mephadrone and other legal highs. I know something else will replace it, twice as deadly no doubt, but leaving it does more harm than good – campaigns in schools and young children could help lower overall drug use. Leaving it on the streets and resignation after resignation only endorses the use of mephadrone and I promise you, there will be more deaths. It is saddening politics and health damage the innocent.

    I do see there are several flaws in the system of classification of drugs and the overall process and respect for people within each field of politics and the ACMD has decayed. I can fully understand the importance of standing up for ones beliefs, that is the purpose of our democracy – however – without the threat of criminal action, mephadrone will swamp the streets doing terrifc harm as it does so – it is not like the cannibis controversy, there is no way mephadrone can be seen as safe.

    I emplore anyone to talk to other students or parents who have seen their children suffer under this drug as say there is no need for a ban!

    Media pressure can be good and bad; this case I can see it as good.
    In a childish way, even if this is seen as the HO trying to be political, I don’t care – it wont change my vote, but it will save lives.

    Regrets for such a long letter.
    It is a subject I am most passionate on.
    Regrets for your resignation sir.

    • These observations seem to be quite the opposite of what most people are witnessing. The people who are being harmed in the way you describe are surely abusing the drug massively (not just using it more than once as you suggest), and just like those who down copious amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, they are surely doing themselves no favours at all. I don’t see the government seeking to ban drinking or the deadly smoking, so I’m not sure why it would be justified in focussing on these drugs. Certainly banning the drug will just compound the problem of misuse we have now – there will be no instructions, no consumer protections, so purity controls, no doseage etc – this is what you are asking for. Oh, and by the way, as a psychologist you should know that seeking intoxication is a normal behavioural characteristic – what is criminal is that human behaviour is made into a highly risky activity by the policy you support.

  11. Hi,
    First of all I would like to thank you for all the given information above. I was so pleased to read all those different opinions and views about mephadrone.
    Before I read these article and saw the news I hadn’t been so sure about influence of that drug.But all these debates have helped me to make up my mind . Now I strongly believe that mephadron must be ban due to prevent other death of our beloved. And this action has to be done as soon as possible!
    I also truly believe, that increasing number of young people who is using drugs has to be as alarm for the government. They have to deal with that kind of drugs by not only making them illegal (as they are doing now) but by developing some program for those who takes them.
    I really apologies for mistakes I have probably made. I have been staying in your country not for such a long time but I hope you would be able to understand the main idea of what has been said.
    Kind Regards,
    Yuliya

  12. Chris Bradley

    We need more common-sense like this. My young nephew spent years in a category A prison for ‘supplying’ class A drugs. He was the one who went off and bought some Ecstacy for himself and a few of his mates for a night out clubbing.

    How many people have died as a result of using illegal drugs?

    How many people have died as a result of using legal drugs?

  13. Hi Eric – I was amongst the public at Monday’s ACMD meeting – you may have caught my question and comment.

    My impression was how concerned Les Iversen seemed to get his view across – there was little in-put from other Council members during the open session and, from what you have written, litle in-put or time for it in the afternoon session. It seemed to me that the banning of mephedrone was a foregone conclusion, with the Council being either bull-dozered into ‘agreement’ or used as some sort of pretext for credibility. In many ways this is the logical outcome of the way in which ACMD and the prseent classification system are working and we shouldn’t be surprised, but there was an opportunity for a more confident and independent Council to take up the proposal of regulating rather than banning. Some hope.

    I also wonder if Les Iversen heard what he himself said about the continued level of fatalities caused by – yes, caused by, not ‘linked’ to – VSA and how that didn’t attract the same attention as the assumed and asserted, but not proven, dangers of mephedrone – neither from Council nor from the media.

    Perhaps the Chair could be encouraged to read the 1998 ACMD report Drug Use and the Environment…?

    Strangest of all is the narrowing of the ACMD focus on a pharmaceutical and prohibition agenda – surely not the result of political pressure??? – at a time when we have had the Thomas McLellan lecture at the IOP with its emphasis on prevention and treatment?

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  15. I couldn’t agree more with you Eric. For years the illegal drug issue has been used as a political football, with every new drug raising the hackles of Grub St and the government. Cue concerned looks, misinformation and a willful disregard for the real issues and consequently the real solutions. Shame on them.

  16. Pingback: More ACMD drama…another resignation + chairman controversy | Blog | Info | Trimega Laboratories - UK Hair Drug Testing & Hair Alcohol Testing

  17. Eric, respect to you. In this new world of style over substance, where people are betraying their ideals for status then another breath of fresh air is needed.
    I work as a front line worker in substance misuse, am tied up in govt stats, KPIs, etc. This society needs a real and honest debat about where it is goign and how as a society we view ourselves.
    To give the best chance for all, we must look at why we use and tackle that from an early stage.
    I have worked in youth service and as a drug & alcohol worker in NHS prior to adults – we do no favours playing politics with this.
    Good luck Eric

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