Drugs adviser says sorry over ecstasy article

The home secretary demanded an apology from Dr David Nutt after he said that taking ecstasy was no riskier than riding a horse

The government's drugs adviser last night apologised for saying that the risk in taking ecstasy was no worse than in riding a horse. Home secretary Jacqui Smith had yesterday carpeted Dr David Nutt over comments that emerged 48 hours before his committee was expected to recommend downgrading the drug.

She demanded an apology and told the professor that his comments went beyond the scientific advice she expected from him. "I've spoken to him. I've told him that I was surprised and profoundly disappointed," Smith told MPs yesterday. She said they made light of a serious problem, trivialised the dangers of drugs, showed insensitivity to the families of victims, and sent the wrong message to young people.

Smith's attack on Nutt, the new chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, comes when this week it will publish a report expected to recommend downgrading ecstasy from class A to class B. Smith has made clear she will veto the council's view as she rejected its advice last year not to reclassify cannabis.

Lib Dem MP Evan Harris complained to the Speaker at Smith's attack, describing Nutt as a "distinguished scientist" unable to answer back in parliament for what was set out in a scientific publication. His article in the Journal of Psychopharmacology was written before he became chairman, but picked up in the weekend press.

Ecstasy is the UK's third most popular illicit drug with an estimated 470,000 people using it last year, including 5% of 16- to 24-year-olds. Last night, Nutt apologised saying he had "no intention of trivialising the dangers of ecstasy".

"I am sorry to those who may have been offended by my article. I would like to apologise to those who have lost friends and family due to ecstasy use," he said.

The article, "Equasy", [sic] ironically argued "equine addiction syndrome" accounted for 100 deaths a year, as against 30 a year for ecstasy use.


Alan Travis, home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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