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More government advisors resign

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 More government advisors resign

Three more government drug advisors have resigned in response to Alan Johnson’s sacking of Professor David Nutt as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

The advisors all resigned after meeting with the home secretary in a meeting that was intended to heal the rift between the scientists and the government over the treatment of Professor Nutt.

This now means that there have been a total of five member losses from the Advisory Council bringing the total membership to 26 from 31. The three members that have resigned were thought to have requested that Professor Nutt be reinstated.

There are not likely to be any further resignations as many of the remaining members of the ACMD, who include judges and police officers, are representatives of organisations.

The three resignations come from John Marsden, who has been a member of the committee since January 2008 and is a research psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry. Ian Ragan, who is a director of a consultancy for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, CIR Consultancy Ltd and been a member of the committee since February 2008, and Simon Campbell, who is a is a synthetic organic chemist and former head of Worldwide Discovery and Medicinals R&D Europe at Pfizer and appointed in April 2008.

A statement released by the ACMD and Home Office said that the meeting had been “very constructive”. The scientists wanted assurance that their recommendations would be considered seriously in the future and tried to come to an agreement over how their advice was handled by ministers.

“The home secretary emphasised the value he placed on ACMD’s advice, the important contribution the ACMD had made to the government drug’s policy in the past and how he expected it to continue to do so in the future,” the statement said.

“The ACMD summarised their concerns regarding how their advice is received by the Home Office and over the dismissal of Professor Nutt.”

The statement also stressed that talks between the government and advisory council were continuing about how the two parties could work together in the future.

Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat science spokesman, said: “The latest resignations represent a deepening in the crisis of confidence of scientists in the Government – in particular in the home secretary. That they come after Alan Johnson met the ACMD demonstrates that he just doesn’t get it when it comes to the importance of respecting the academic freedom and integrity of independent, unpaid science advisers.”

Professor Nutt, the UK’s chief drug advisor, was asked to step down from his position last month after criticising the Governments current drug policies and stating that cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes.

Home secretary, Alan Johnson, said that the professor had “crossed the line” into politics with his remarks.

In response to Professor Nutt’s sacking, two senior members of the ACMD immediately resigned. They are Les King, former head of the drugs intelligence unit of the Forensic Science Service and Marion Walker, the clinical director of Berkshire Healthcare NHS foundation trust’s substance misuse service.

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