NEWS

Compiled by Susan Savva


BRAIN SCIENCE, ADDICTION AND DRUGS

What new types of psychoactive substance might emerge in the next 20 years? How will new knowledge of the way the brain works, and of the human genome, alter drug development? What are the cultural, social and economic effects of psychoactive substances? And what methods will be available to manage addiction and substance use for the benefit of individuals, communities and society? These are the key questions being tackled by a UK government scientific programme whose findings are set to inform future policy. The project, within a wider programme called Foresight, over a short time frame of 9–18 months seeks to review the key issues and outline strategies and visions for the future. The project is run by Sir David King, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government, and calls on an invited body of experts chaired by a government minister, Lord Warner.

Fifteen state-of-science reviews have been commissioned from research groups across the UK, setting out the limits of current knowledge and considering future capabilities if current lines of research are successful. Review topics include drug testing, ethics, genomics, pharmacology and treatments, cognitive enhancers, experimental psychology, economics, social policy and the history of addiction. The first output is a series of one-page summaries in layman's language. The reviews when completed will appear in their entirety online at http://www.foresight.gov.uk and the project's findings will be described in the final summary report to be published when the project launches later this year.

NEW CANNABIS-BASED TREATMENT FAILS EFFICACY TESTS

GW Pharmaceuticals, the company developing a cannabis-based treatment for multiple sclerosis sufferers, suffered a setback at the end of last year when the British Committee for the Safety of Medicines withheld a licence from the new drug, Sativex, because it had failed efficacy tests. The medicine, currently undergoing clinical trials, passed on two out of the three requirements (safety and quality), but has to undergo a further testing stage which will delay the appearance on the market of the new treatment, a nasal spray with an active THC component. It is now not expected to gain approval before the end of 2005 at the earliest. Stock market commentators blamed the company for failing to match its trial to the regulator's requirements. The news was followed by a 25% drop in share values.

ENQUIRY INTO WORKPLACE DRUG TESTING

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a respected independent social policy research group based in York, UK, has recently completed an enquiry on all aspects of drug testing in the workplace. The nature and extent of testing employees for illegal drug use in UK workplaces was documented; and the availability and technological development of drug testing equipment examined. Questions debated included whether business has a legitimate involvement in what staff do in their leisure time; and in what circumstances, if any, are employers entitled to discipline or dismiss staff for using drugs and alcohol? Key findings included:

  • • Evidence on the links between drug use and accidents at work, absenteeism, low productivity and poor performance was inconclusive;
  • • A lack of evidence for a strong link between drug use and accidents in safety-critical industries such as transport, engineering, quarrying and mining. Clearly, however, drug- and alcohol-induced intoxication will be a source of risk in such environments;
  • • Other factors may have a greater impact on safety, productivity and performance, including bad working conditions, sleeping and health problems, excessive workloads and work-related stress;
  • • Investment in management training and systems is likely to have more impact on safety, performance and productivity than the introduction of drug testing at work … good and open management is the most effective method of improving workplace performance and tackling drug and alcohol problems amongst staff.

The enquiry's report has been published and a PDF version is obtainable free of charge at the Foundation's website, http://www.jrf.org.uk. Alternatively, a paperback copy may be ordered online, or from York Publishing Services Ltd, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ (Tel. + 44 (0)1904 430033; Fax: + 44 (0)1904 430868).

BIG ALCOHOL AND THE HEALTH FASCISTS

Puppet shows have for centuries been effective vehicles for satire and propaganda and now they have moved into our very own field. A pair of characters, Symon Scoop, reporter, and Sir Dennis Tippleworthy, senior vice-president for communications and marketing for the multinational drinks corporation, Galaxy Distillers, made their appearance at two recent conferences, where they performed to great acclaim. The serious message was to promote debate about the agenda of the alcohol industry and its effect on public health. Those who saw the comedy duo at Warsaw and at Galway found them both hilarious and thought-provoking.

If you would like Scoop and Tippleworthy to visit your conference, Puppet Interventions of Edinburgh may be contacted through Rick Conte at rickconte@hotmail.com

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