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Using Drugs as Weapons can Never Be 'non Lethal', Say Doctors

In a report [Thursday, 24 May 2007] the BMA says it is extremely concerned at the growing interest of world governments in using drugs in law enforcement situations, in the belief that these can be non lethal.

The use of drugs as weapons1, produced by the BMAs Board of Science, concludes that it is impossible to deliver the right drug in the right dose to the right individuals in a way that is both effective and does not cause significant deaths. The report highlights the Moscow theatre siege of October 2002 the Russian authorities said a derivative of the drug fentanyl2 was delivered through the air-conditioning system to end the siege. This killed over 130 hostages.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA Head of Science and Ethics, said: It is important to remember that target groups are likely to comprise people of varying weights, sizes and ages; some may be pregnant or have pre-existing medical conditions. It is virtually impossible to control the amount of a drug delivered or to ensure it acts without producing toxic effects or causing death.

It is disingenuous of governments to describe drugs as non-lethal there is no difference between a drug and a poison except the dose. Using drugs as a method of law enforcement may constitute a violation of international conventions which prohibit the use of chemical weapons. This is of great concern to the BMA.

The BMA is keen to alert doctors to the fact that medical knowledge may be called upon for the development of drugs as weapons, as well as antidotes and treatments. Future advances in drug development may spawn more sophisticated and sinister agents that may not be limited to science fiction.

Key recommendations from the report state that organizations that represent healthcare professionals should:

Advocate a multidisciplinary input to policy-making about all weapons and their use in relation to international law or arms control and disar
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