Dr R Balashankar
Drugs Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs, David Nutt, UIT Cambridge Ltd, Pp 352 (PB), £12.99
THE cost of the drug industry runs into millions of dollars world over. All the states spend a huge amount of money tracking drug dealers, users and producers. The amount of money spent on the criminal and legal process is humongous. There is so much hype and sound about drugs that much of it is media obsession. This also shuts up serious discussion on drugs and also the other equally lethal if not more harmful uses of chemicals and stimulants, which may not fall in the category of “drugs.”
This is the thrust and approach of David Nutt, a world-renowned expert on the subject in his book Drugs Without the Hot Air. Alcohol, probably the most prevalent addition in the world, accounts for more deaths and puts immense pressure on the national health budgets in terms of rehabilitation and drinking-related disorders. And yet, it receives less attention of the lawmakers and enforcers for reduction, prevention and control.
In order to highlight the hype about drugs, David Nutt gives a small example. Horse riding causes as much harm as ecstasy, a banned party drug. It results in as much injuries and fatal accidents and incurs the same expenditure on the National Health System (Britain). And it is easier to ban horse riding than dealing with this drug abuse. And yet, the government hardly ever thinks on these lines. His this suggestion in the Journal of Psychopharmacology created a furore. Worse, what cost him his top job in Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was a lecture he delivered in 2009, where he said that cannabis was less harmful than several other drugs and that there was no need to upgrade it from Grade C to Grade B drug. He was asked to resign from the post by the British Home Secretary, when he refused, his sacking was announced at a press conference. Luckily for David Nutt, a millionaire Toby Jackson, with a keen interest in science set up a research facility which he joined, along with several others. “Certainly, nobody was calling cannabis safe. However, as my 2007 report had shown, across a range of different sorts of harm it was by no means as damaging as many other drugs, particularly alcohol.”
David Nutt’s book focuses on only Britain and he points out that drug was used by that country for its expansion in Asia. As a state, it was the British government, which was the biggest drug dealer in history, making opium, coffee and tea part of the official trade with China! Nutt points out that cannabis has several medicinal applications and because of it branded as ‘illegal’ its good uses are also denied to the medical fraternity.
The author raises an interesting question. “If alcohol was discovered today, would it be illegal?” This stems from the argument that consumption of substances like opium had been in vogue for several centuries till recently. Chewing and smoking tobacco is still legal. Drinking alcohol, one of the most harmful addictions, is also legal. Two or three teenagers die from alcohol every week from overdosing and there are at least ten accidents a week caused by reckless driving because of alcohol. And yet, it continues to be a legal substance. Nutt points out that there is a false notion in public about the term drug. Alcohol is very much a drug as much as coffee is, he says. But the drinks industry controls the government policy on alcohol. This is true not only of Britain but almost all countries globally. “The access people have to cheap, high-strength alcohol is almost unprecedented, and binge drinking of the sort we see today is something out ancestors would rarely have been able to indulge in even they’d wanted to. Teenagers being encouraged to drink themselves to death everyday is not what any society should consider “normal.” He goes on to assert that alcohol affects so many organs in the body as no other drug does.
These statements by Nutt should be read out loud to those who are rooting for lowering age for drinking and opening more pubs and liquor shops, a move being done by governments in India for revenue generation.
David Nutt goes on to list a series of measures to deal with the drug issue. He explains how the war on drugs could be a losing one if the policy and goals are not set right, now. Nutt is Edmond J Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London and an authority on drugs. The book is of immense value as it introduces and discusses drugs, a touchy and controversial subject in a scientific and dispassionate and non-sermonising way.
(UIT Cambridge Ltd, PO Box 145, Cambridge, CB4 1GQ, England)