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The War on Nutt

Posted on 01 November 2010

its_safe.jpgFaux Webb, the Today programme’s latest and duckiest presenter, this morning helpfully offered Professor Nutt, ex-Chief Pongo of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the chance to put his case against the demon drink ‘in a Nuttshell’. By BBC fair-do rules Faux was obliged to give Nuttshell’s opponent, Mail on Sunday heavyweight Peter Hitchens, the opportunity to put his case, this time in a Hittshell. But there was no need. Hittshell was already engaged, in a heavy artillery sort of way, in The War on Nutt. The studio soon filled to the sound of high ordnance. Neither Nutt nor Faux stood a chance.

Nutt, we may recall, was optimized from ACMD almost exactly a year ago by the then Home Secretary Alan Johnson, pour pétant plus haut que son cul. There was a kerfuffle amongst fellow boffins, five of whom did the decent thing, and optimized themselves in protest. Nutt huffed off, and formed his own independent drug advisory committee and, as one does these days, took to blogging. He continues to opine – and opine it is, because it is now clear that there is precious little hard science – and not a little sleight of science (multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) modelling, fore-sooth, not to mention crony-packed interactive workshops) – behind his opinions – that alcohol tops the pops when it comes to drug-related harm. In numerical, public health terms, the argument may have some weight, because alcohol is legal and therefore common - but that is only one part of the story. Getting on the wrong side of heroin and cocaine can be pretty nasty too.

And yet Nutt – who is no stranger to Big Pharma (in the last year, Nutt has ‘acted as a paid consultant’ and/or received ‘honoraria’ from seven drug companies) – relentlessly bangs his booze is bad drum. Had Hittshell - or Faux, for that matter - done their homework, they would have spotted that Nutt does indeed have many fingers in many pies. One such pie is the development of a alcohol substitute that does away with alcohol related harm while still providing ‘a pleasant state of mild inebriation’ – a substance that has the commercial potential to be to booze what nicotine replacement therapy is to fags.

Nalcohol, as Dr No believes the substitute should be named, in honour of Nutt, is a benzo, related to diazepam (Valium), and benzos are hardly without harm. Be that as it may (or rather may not, because substituting one drug of addiction for another raises all sorts of questions), it does seem a notable coincidence that the Prof who tells us booze is bad above all others is also the Prof who happens to be hard at work on an alcohol substitute. And that – in a Nuttshell – is the case against Nutt.


The BBC has the wrong clip on that link.

The link filled to the sound of high ordnance does take you to a page that appears to have the right words on the page, but the wrong ones in the clip - which appear to be the same as that attached to the 0717 Lord Young entry.

but if someone was completely sincere and convinced of the dangers of something, it would be reasonable both to work on a substitute and to campaign against it. The coincidence is suspicious but not conclusive.

Anon at 7.22pm - a fair point, and not one Dr No is insensible to. In a way, it is a chicken and egg problem - which came first?

Of course, Nutt could have avoided the problem altogether by leaving the anti-alcohol campaigning to others - there's certainly no shortage of people ready to bang that drum.

Three things (none again in any way conclusive) swung it towards a less charitable interpretation for Dr No. The first was dressing up an opinion paper as science (today's Lancet paper); the second was Nutt's record of heavy involvement with Big Pharma (or perhaps Nutt is 'clean' but naive? - certainly Big Pharma will be more than aware of the commercial potential); and the third (not really mentioned in the original post, although hinted at) was Nutt's alleged parallel campaign that benzos (and so nalcohol) are 'safe' (see here and here, which also makes further mention of drug company links, for example, and this abstract here). Dr No may have missed something along the way, but as things are the idea that benzos are safe seems a little off the wall to him...unless you want to mass market them...

Definitely not conclusive proof, but at the same time the waters do seem muddier than perhaps they should. And we haven't even started on the desirability - or otherwise - of a synthetic alcohol substitute.

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