Race to the bottom: Eroding evidence from EU drug policy

Last week's recommendation from Europol and EMCDDA for an EU-wide ban on mephedrone is remarkable for its lack of scientific evidence. The report primarily relies on user experiences and a handful of hospital admissions, with no formal studies to demonstrate the actual or potential harms of the drug and with only one caseformally cited as having mephedrone as the cause of death.

It is not yet possible to say how harmful mephedrone is given the lack of evidence. However, by legislating on a substance without reliable scientifically-based evidence, we run the risk of causing more harm through criminalising users than might be caused by the drug itself. The evidence on drug harms should not be sacrificed for political and media pressure.

A minimum data set, specifying what needs to be known about a substance in order to deal with it effectively, through legislation or otherwise, is urgently needed, at both the domestic and international level. The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) have been developing a minimum data set for this purpose. I will be discussing its development at the ISCD/Lancet joint summit Drug science and drug policy: Building a consensus on 1 November 2010.