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Friday, 5 November 2010

Alcohol: More harmful than Heroin or Cocaine?

Alcohol, although one of the only legal 'recreational drugs' available to the public, has been seen in a new light recently with the publishing of a paper by Professor David Nutt.

A new system that ranks drugs on the basis of harm caused to both the user and others has placed alcohol as the most harmful drug - this is above even heroin and crack!

Professor Nutt attempted this assessment in 2007, which provoked major interest and public debate, although it raised concerns about the choice of the nine criteria and the absence of any differential weighting of them.

Drugs were scored with points out of 100, with 100 assigned to the most harmful drug on a specific criterion. Zero indicated no harm. Explaining their model, the authors say: "In scaling of the drugs, care is needed to ensure that each successive point on the scale represents equal increments of harm. Thus, if a drug is scored at 50, then it should be half as harmful as the drug that scored 100."

The nine categories in harm to self are:

- Drug-specific mortality
- Drug-related mortality
- Drug-specific damage
- Drug-related damage
- Dependence
- Drug-specific impairment of mental function
- Drug-related impairment of mental functioning
- Loss of tangibles
- Loss of relationships
- Injury.

The harm to others categories are:

- Crime
- Environmental damage
- Family conflict
- International damage
- Economic cost
- Decline in community cohesion.

Heroin, crack, and crystal meth were the most harmful drugs to the individual.

Alcohol, heroin, and crack were the most harmful to others.

This system showed alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), then heroin (55) then crack (54.)

The implications this study could have on drugs policy is potentially huge. But one ahs to question, with such a large number of people drinking alcohol opposed to, say, taking heroin - has this made a difference to their results? Surely there are more people that enjoy alcohol with relatively little harm than those taking heroin or cocain?

However accurate/valid the study, it cannot be denied that it has and will cause much controversy. It will be interesting to see if future studies find similar results.

What are your opinions?
Is alcohol more harmful than heroin or cocaine?

Link to Article
Link to Paper

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