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David J. Nutt is a psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist specialising in the research of drugs which affect the brain and conditions such as addiction, anxiety and sleep. He is a professor at the University of Bristolmarker heading their Psychopharmacology Unit. He also holds the Edmond J Safra chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, Londonmarker. Nutt is a member of the Committee on Safety of Medicines, and is on the Council and is President of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Career

Professor Nutt studied medicine at the University of Cambridgemarker, graduating in 1972 and completing his clinical training at Guy's Hospitalmarker in 1975. Before this he completed his secondary education at Colston's Schoolmarker, Bristol. He worked as a clinical scientist at the Radcliffe Infirmarymarker from 1978 to 1982. From 1983 to 1985, he lectured in psychiatry at the University of Oxfordmarker. In 1986, he was the Fogarty visiting scientist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, MDmarker, just outside of Washington, D.C.marker Returning to the UK in 1988, he joined the University of Bristol as director of the Psychopharmacology Unit. In 2009, he then established the Department of Neuropsychopharmacology and Molecular Imaging at Imperial College, London, taking a new chair endowed by the Edmond J Safra Philanthropic Foundation. He is an editor of the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

His current research focuses on brain circuits and receptors in anxiety and addiction, and on the pharmacology of sleep. This involves the study of GABA receptors, using labelled subtypes of GABA 5, and serotonin, or 5-HT, receptors. Type 1 5-HT receptors seem to be especially important in depression and the action of anti-depressants.

Government positions

Professor Nutt worked as an advisor to the Ministry of Defence, Department of Health and the Home Office.

He served on the Committee on Safety of Medicines where he participated in an enquiry into the use of SSRI anti-depressants in 2003. His participation was criticised as, owing to his financial interest in GlaxoSmithKline, he had to withdraw from discussions of the drug Seroxat. In January 2008 he was appointed as the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), having previously been Chair of the Technical Committee of the ACMD for seven years.

As ACMD chairman Nutt repeatedly clashed with government ministers over issues of drug harm and classification. In January 2009 he published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology a paper ('Equasy - An overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms') in which the risks associated with horse riding (1 serious adverse event every ~350 exposures) were compared to those of taking ecstasy (1 serious adverse event every ~10,000 exposures). In February 2009 he was criticised by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for stating in the paper that the drug ecstasy -- a class A drug along with heroin and cocaine -- was statistically no more dangerous than an addiction to horse-riding. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph', Nutt said that the point was "to get people to understand that drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life". Jacqui Smith claimed to be "surprised and profoundly disappointed" by the remarks, and added: "I'm sure most people would simply not accept the link [sic] that he makes up [sic] in his article between horse riding and illegal drug taking". She also insisted that he apologise for his comments, and asked him to apologise also to 'the families of the victims of ecstasy'.

The issue of the mismatch between lawmakers' classification of recreational drugs, in particular that of cannabis, and scientific measures of their harmfulness surfaced again in October 2009, after the publication of a pamphlet containing a lecture Nutt had given to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London in July 2009. In this, Nutt repeated his familiar view that illicit drugs should be classified according to the actual evidence of the harm they cause, and presented an analysis in which nine 'parameters of harm' (grouped as 'physical harm', 'dependence', 'and 'social harms') revealed alcohol and tobacco to be more harmful than LSD, ecstasy and cannabis. In this ranking, alcohol came fifth behind heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone, and tobacco ranked ninth, ahead of cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, he said. In this classification, alcohol and tobacco appeared as Class B drugs, and cannabis was placed at the top of Class C. Nutt also argued that taking cannabis created only a "relatively small risk" of psychotic illness. Nutt objected to the recent re-upgrading (after 5 years) of cannabis from a Class C drug back to a Class B drug (and thus again on a par with amphetamines), considering it politically motivated rather than scientifically justified.

Sacking

Following the release of this pamphlet, Nutt was dismissed from his ACMD position by the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson. Explaining his sacking of Nutt, Alan Johnson wrote in a letter to The Guardian, that "He was asked to go because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy. [...] As for his comments about horse riding being more dangerous than ecstasy, which you quote with such reverence, it is of course a political rather than a scientific point." Responding in The Times, Professor Nutt said:

In the wake of Nutt's dismissal, Dr Les King, a part-time advisor to the Department of Health, and the senior chemist on the ACMD, resigned from the body. His resignation was soon followed by that of Marion Walker, Clinical Director of Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust's substance misuse service, and the Royal Pharmaceutical Societymarker's representative on the ACMD.

The Guardian revealed that Alan Johnson ordered what was described as a 'snap review' of the 40-strong ACMD in October 2009. This, it was said, would assess whether the body is "discharging the functions" that it was set up to deliver and decide if it still represented value for money for the public. The review is to be conducted by David Omand. Within hours of that announcement, an article was published online by The Times arguing that Nutt's controversial lecture actually conformed to government guidelines throughout. This issue was further publicised a week later when Liberal Democrat science spokesman Dr Evan Harris, MP, attacked the Home Secretary for apparently having misled Parliament and the country in his original statement about Nutt's sacking.

John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government stated that he agreed with the views of Professor Nutt on cannabis. When asked if he agreed whether cannabis was less harmful than cigarettes and alcohol, he replied: "I think the scientific evidence is absolutely clear cut. I would agree with it." A few days later, it was revealed that a leaked email from the government's Science Minister Lord Drayson was quoted as saying Mr Johnson's decision to sack Nutt without consulting him was a "big mistake" that left him "pretty appalled".

On 4 November, the BBC reported that Nutt had financial backing to create a new independent drug research body if the ACMD was disbanded or proved incapable of functioning.

On 11 November, after a meeting between AMCD and Alan Johnson, three other scientists tendered their resignations, Dr Simon Campbell, a chemist, psychologist Dr John Marsden and scientific consultant Ian Ragan.

Honours

He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physiciansmarker, Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Academy of Medical Sciences. He holds visiting professorships in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands. He is president of British Association of Psychopharmacology and the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Publications

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Anxiolytics
  • Drugs and the future
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Treating depression effectively


References

  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/4570522/Home-Offices-drugs-adviser-apologises-for-saying-ecstasy-is-no-more-dangerous-than-riding-a-horse.html


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