63. Methylamphetamine (also called methamphetamine)
is a derivative of amphetamine which is both produced for medicinal
purposes and manufactured illicitly. Methylamphetamine can be
produced as a tablet, powder or in a crystalline form commonly
known as 'ice'. The latter form tends to be extremely potent and,
unlike other types of amphetamines, can be smoked in a similar
way to crack cocaine.
In addition to the harms associated with methylamphetamine misuse,
the toxic chemicals and risky procedures involved in the illicit
manufacture of the drug can pose a danger to those who live in
the vicinity of clandestine laboratories and to others who enter
the premises, including law enforcement officers. Methylamphetamine
is the most widely produced illicit synthetic drug in the world.
64. The ACMD recently reviewed methylamphetamine
following a request from the Home Office. The Council told us
that the request had been prompted by a visit to the US, in late
2003, by the Permanent Secretary for Crime, Policing, Counter-Terrorism
and Delivery at the Home Office.
We also heard on our visit to the US about the scale and severity
of the problems associated with methylamphetamine abuse there.
Most memorably, a senior officer from the New York Police Department
told us that the highly potent crystalline form of methylamphetamine
"makes crack cocaine look like a Hershey bar". According
to the World Drug Report 2006, the US dismantles the largest number
of methylamphetamine laboratories worldwide17,199 in 2004
65. The ACMD report found that methylamphetamine
was nearly twice as potent as other amphetamines and although
the majority of symptoms were the same as for other amphetamines,
the level of dependence was higher and was reached more quickly.
However, the ACMD concluded that "there does not appear to
be evidence in the UK that [methylamphetamine] is present in the
drugs scene to any appreciable extent" and "There does
not, therefore, appear to be a firm foundation and rationale for
reclassifying [methylamphetamine] under the Misuse of Drugs Act
1971, at least at the present time".
Furthermore, the ACMD suggested that "reclassification could
have the unintended consequence of increasing interest in the
drug amongst potential users".
Professor Nutt, Chair of the ACMD Technical Committee, made it
clear in evidence to us that this was the driver for the Council's
decision not to recommend a change in classification: "The
reason I believe we did not recommend it at the time was mostly
because there could be a perverse effect. If people saw methylamphetamine
as a more dangerous drug, a more Class A amphetamine, we might
well have begun to see importation".
We put this suggestion to experts and officials involved in drugs
policy in the US, all of whom told us they were not aware of any
evidence to support this view.
66. Sir Michael Rawlins, Chairman of the ACMD, acknowledged
that in developing its position the Council had made "a judgment
] as to which would be the least damaging thing to do",
but argued that it was a "misunderstanding" to think
"that scientific advisory committees just make their decisions
purely on the science".,
recommendation by the ACMD that methylamphetamine should stay
in Class B because of the signal that reclassification might send
to potential users has given us serious cause for concern. We
recognise that the Council often has to make recommendations on
the basis of weak or limited evidence, but invoking this non-scientific
judgement call as the primary justification for its position has
muddied the water with respect to its role. The
ACMD acknowledged that there was clear-cut evidence that the harmfulness
of methylamphetamine misuse justified a Class A status.
It should therefore have conveyed this to the Home Secretary with
the caveat that he should consider any unintended consequences
of a change in classification.
It is highly regrettable that the ACMD took it upon itself to
make what should have been a political judgement.
67. The ACMD presented its recommendations on methylamphetamine
to the Home Secretary in November 2005. He accepted their recommendations
in full, but "given the nature of the drug, and the risk
of the prevalence in the UK increasing", asked the ACMD to
keep a "watching brief" and provide further advice in
12 months. Following
a flurry of media reports about the dangers of methylamphetamine
and warnings from the UN, the ACMD decided to reconsider its position
on methylamphetamine on 25 May 2006, just six months after the
publication of its original advice. Further to these discussions
the ACMD recommended to the Home Secretary "that methylamphetamine
(and its salts) be re-classified as a Class A substance".
The Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker confirmed in evidence to
us that the Government would be accepting this recommendation.
68. The ACMD said in its letter to the Home Secretary
that it was submitting further advice on methylamphetamine in
advance of the 12 month deadline "because of the threat potentially
posed by this substance".
The letter cited four main reasons for the change in recommendation.
Firstly, "there are indications that the use of methylamphetamine
is now starting to become more widespread"; secondly, "the
police have become aware of the existence of a small number of
illicit laboratories synthesising the substance"; thirdly,
"over the past 6 to 9 months, there has been considerable
media interest in the properties and use of methylamphetamine";
and fourthly, reclassification as a Class A drug would give police
"powers to close down 'ice houses' as they currently do with
All of these could have been predicted and, indeed, were by various
observers. The ACMD's decision
to revise its position and recommend that methylamphetamine become
a Class A substance will be welcomed by many. However, the fact
that the ACMD changed its mind so quickly makes it look like the
Council either realised that it had made a mistake, or had succumbed
to outside pressure.
69. Overall, our examination of the processes used
by the ACMD and Home Office to make, respectively, recommendations
and decisions regarding the classification of drugs has revealed
a disconcertingly ad hoc approach to determining when reviews
should be undertaken and a worrying lack of transparency in how
classification decisions are made. We address these concerns in
the following Chapter.