Intended for healthcare professionals


Classification of illegal and harmful drugs

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 03 August 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:272
  1. Michael Gossop (, head of research
  1. National Addiction Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8AF

    The UK's confusing and inadequate ABC system is ready for an urgent overhaul

    This week the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology published the report of its inquiry on the classification of illegal drugs in the United Kingdom.1 The report high-lighted glaring anomalies in the classification of illegal drugs into classes A, B, and C and reflected a broad agreement that the current system is not fit for purpose. The committee also reported considerable confusion over the remit of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and serious flaws in the way that the council conducts its business.

    The select committee's report criticises the government for failing to meet its commitments to evidence based policy making. Indeed, the inquiry on illegal drugs was part of a wider investigation into how the UK government handles scientific advice, risk, and evidence. Launching the whole inquiry last November, the committee chairman, Phil Willis MP, said “We keep hearing from government ministers that policy is based on evidence. We want to… (know what that) means in practice.”

    The classification system (based on the United Nations Single Convention, 1971, and the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971) was designed as a …

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