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Reports - EMCDDA Report on the risk assessment of GHB
Written by Richard Dennis   

A risk assessment of any chemical is a unique scientific event in which a
range of evidence is evaluated and discussed in depth. Risk assessments of
new synthetic drugs under the aegis of the joint action of July 1997 are even
more unique because not only the pharmacotoxicological effects on health
must be considered but also the social effects and the possible consequences
of prohibition. The risk assessments performed in September 2000 on ketamine
(3) and GHB were respectively the third and fourth such risk assessments
performed by the extended Scientific Committee at the EMCDDA. The
unique feature of both these substances is that they are both licensed medicines
of value in human or veterinary medicine. The task faced by the riskassessment
committee therefore involved not just an assessment of the scientific
evidence but also an assessment of how best to safeguard public
health while simultaneously ensuring that valuable medicines could still be
available to practitioners and their human (and animal) patients. These
assessments involved detailed and robust discussions among the multidisciplinary
committee, drawn from each of the Member States. The ability of scientists
from a range of laboratory and non-laboratory sciences to debate the
issues surrounding new synthetic drugs is a key strength of the joint action
process and my colleagues on the Committee are to be commended on their
detailed and learned contributions to our overall understanding of these two
substances. Their individual contributions allied to those of the two experts,
Dr Leon van Aerts (ketamine) and Mr Simon Elliott (GHB) plus the invaluable
inputs from the staff of the Monitoring Centre provided the basis for the final
recommendations made to Council about the two drugs. These recommendations
relate not only to the question of control of ketamine and GHB but
also highlight the need for the Member States to consider other elements
such as the need for research on the neurotoxicity of ketamine and on the
role of GHB (and other drugs) in cases of drug-assisted sexual assault. Given
that these subsidiary recommendations come from a Committee composed
of the leading experts on new synthetic drugs in the EU, their importance
should not be underestimated by the Commission, the Council or the
Member States.

As ever in these risk assessments an enormous debt of gratitude is due to my
colleagues on the steering committee for risk assessment who worked
incredibly hard before, during and after the meetings to finalise the reports.
The work of Salme Ahlström (Finland), Aldo Perissino (Belgium), Wolfgang
Werdenich (Austria), Jean-Pol Tassin (France) and Christina Poethko-Müller
(Germany) was more than matched by the efforts of the staff of the Centre
including Alain Wallon, Lena Westberg and Deborah Olszewski.

My admiration of all of them has grown with each risk assessment because of
their acumen, commitment and enthusiasm for a unique European activity.

Dr Desmond Corrigan
Chairperson, Scientific Committee of the EMCDDA

(3) The ‘Report on the risk assessment of ketamine in the framework of the joint action on new
synthetic drugs’ is also available.

 

Our valuable member Richard Dennis has been with us since Monday, 20 February 2012.

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