The British Medical Association has expressed deep concern at thegrowing interest of world governments in using drugs in lawenforcement, in the belief that these can be nonlethal.
The BMA’s report The use of drugs as weapons,published on 24 May, concludes that it is impossible to deliver theright drug in the right dose to the right individuals in a way that isboth effective and does not cause significant numbers of deaths.
Thereport highlights the case of the Moscow theatre siege of October 2002,in which the Russian authorities claimed that in a bid to end thesiege, a derivative of the drug fentanyl was delivered in gaseous formvia the air-conditioning system. Fentanyl is often used as a painkilleror anaesthetic during surgery, and is more powerful than morphine.Although there has been much debate about whether a fentanyl-basedsubstance could have had the effects witnessed, some 130 hostages diedapparently from the effects of the gas.
BMA head of scienceand ethics Dr Vivienne Nathanson said: “Target groups are likely tocomprise people of varying weights, sizes and ages; some may bepregnant or have pre-existing medical conditions. It is virtuallyimpossible to control the amount of a drug delivered or to ensure itacts without producing toxic effects or causing death.
“Itis disingenuous of governments to describe drugs as nonlethal – thereis no difference between a drug and a poison except the dose. Usingdrugs as a method of law enforcement may constitute violation ofinternational conventions which prohibit use of chemical weapons.”
TheBMA is keen to alert healthcare professionals to the fact that theirknowledge may be used for developing weaponised drugs, antidotes andtreatments. The report urges representative organisations to:
• Advocate a multidisciplinary input to policymaking about weapons and their use in relation to international law.
• Ensure governments and policymakers understand relevant scientific, legal and ethical considerations.
• Work to promote agreements prohibiting use of poisons and understanding that weaponising drugs violates such agreements.
•Advocate that any states party to the Chemical Weapons Convention whichopt to use drugs for law enforcement, declare the types and quantitiesof such agents.
• Ensure the consequences of weaponised drug use are considered part of the review of such weapons in international law.
• Argue against use of weaponised drugs and refuse involvement in training personnel to administer them.
• Recognise the ethical dilemmas surrounding weaponised drugs and promote professional debate.
•Develop guidelines for any healthcare professional involved in researchand development of materials or knowledge that might be put to a dualuse.
• Ensure the drug industry is alert to possible malign use of their research and products, and work with them against this.
• Encourage members to abide by codes prohibiting involvement in developing dual-use technologies or materials.
BMA press release 24/5/2007