Drug experts say alcohol worse than crack or heroin

LONDON Mon Nov 1, 2010 10:23am EDT

Wine merchants at the world's biggest wine fair in a file photo. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Wine merchants at the world's biggest wine fair in a file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Regis Duvignau

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LONDON (Reuters) - Alcohol is a more dangerous drug than both crack and heroin when the combined harms to the user and to others are assessed, British scientists said Monday.

Presenting a new scale of drug harm that rates the damage to users themselves and to wider society, the scientists rated alcohol the most harmful overall and almost three times as harmful as cocaine or tobacco.

According to the scale, devised by a group of scientists including Britain's Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) and an expert adviser to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), heroin and crack cocaine rank as the second and third most harmful drugs.

Ecstasy is only an eighth as harmful as alcohol, according to the scientists' analysis.

Professor David Nutt, chairman of the ISCD, whose work was published in the Lancet medical journal, said the findings showed that "aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy."

He said they also showed that current drug classification systems had little relation to the evidence of harm.

Alcohol and tobacco are legal for adults in Britain and many other countries, while drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis and LSD are often illegal and carry the threat of prison sentences.

"It is intriguing to note that the two legal drugs assessed -- alcohol and tobacco -- score in the upper segment of the ranking scale, indicating that legal drugs cause at least as much harm as do illegal substances," Nutt, who was formerly head of the influential British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said in a statement about the study.

Nutt was forced to quit the ACMD a year ago after publicly criticizing ministers for ignoring scientific advice suggesting cannabis was less harmful than alcohol.

The World Health Organization estimates that risks linked to alcohol cause 2.5 million deaths a year from heart and liver disease, road accidents, suicides and cancer -- accounting for 3.8 percent of all deaths. It is the third leading risk factor for premature death and disabilities worldwide.

In an effort to offer a guide to policy makers in health, policing, and social care, Nutt's team rated drugs using a technique called multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) which assessed damage according to nine criteria on harm to the user and seven criteria on harm to others.

Harms to the user included things such as drug-specific or drug-related death, damage to health, drug dependence and loss of relationships, while harms to others included crime, environmental damage, family conflict, international damage, economic cost, and damage to community cohesion.

Drugs were then scored out of 100, with 100 given to the most harmful drug and zero indicating no harm at all.

The scientists found alcohol was most harmful, with a score of 72, followed by heroin with 55 and crack with 54.

Among some of the other drugs assessed were crystal meth (33), cocaine (27), tobacco (26), amphetamine or speed (23), cannabis (20), benzodiazepines, such as Valium (15), ketamine (15), methadone (14), mephedrone (13), ecstasy (9), anabolic steroids (9), LSD (7) and magic mushrooms (5).

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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Comments (38)
meribellblue wrote:
when Government can figure out a way to tax other illegal drugs the laws will change. The truth and consequences hold little merit. The real issue is how to capitalize and make money.

Oct 31, 2010 10:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
GeyeJo wrote:
“It is intriguing to note that the two legal drugs assessed — alcohol and tobacco — score in the upper segment of the ranking scale, indicating that legal drugs cause at least as much harm as do illegal substances,” Nutt, who was formerly head of the influential British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said in a statement about the study.

Maybe that’s because they are LEGAL?

Nutt was forced to quit the ACMD a year ago after publicly criticizing ministers for ignoring scientific advice suggesting cannabis was less harmful than alcohol.

This NUTT sounds like a pothead who is trying to argue for the legalization of weed. Crack, cocaine and heroin can easily cause death by heart failure and cause permanent changes in the brain. Alcohol is far less likely to be abused. Marijuana leads to decreased lung function and lung cancer. All drugs have damaging effects, but it boils down to what society deems socially acceptable.

Oct 31, 2010 10:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Yaxamie wrote:
Well, I personally don’t understand the following…

“Drugs were then scored out of 100, with 100 given to the most harmful drug and zero indicating no harm at all.

“The scientists found alcohol was most harmful, with a score of 72, followed by heroin with 55 and crack with 54.”

According to the quote, the most harmful drug is to be assigned a 100. Then alcohol gets assigned a 72. Then they say alcohol is the most harmful.

Oct 31, 2010 12:49am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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