Alcohol causes more harm than heroin or crack cocaine, according to a new study by Professor David Nutt, the government’s former chief drug adviser.
In an Article published in the Lancet, the drug expert presents a new way of measuring drug damage that assesses both harm to the individual and harm to the rest of society. His analysis shows that when both factors are combined, alcohol is the most damaging drug, followed by heroin and crack.
The paper is written by Professor Nutt, of Imperial College London, and the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, Dr Leslie King, UK Expert Adviser to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, and Dr Lawrence Phillips, London School of Economics and Political Science.
The new assessment used nine categories of harm to the self and seven to society as a whole. The “harm to self” categories cover mortality, poor health, impaired mental functioning, loss of friendships and injury. The “harm to others” categories include crime, environmental damage, family conflict and decline in community cohesion. Heroin, crack, and crystal meth were the most harmful drugs to the individual, whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack were the most harmful to others.
The modelling showed that as well as being the most harmful drug overall, alcohol is almost three times as harmful as cocaine or tobacco. It also showed that alcohol is more than five-times more harmful than mephedrone, which was recently a so-called legal high in the UK before it was made a class B controlled drug in April 2010.
Ecstasy, which has had much harm-related media attention over the past two decades, is only one eighth as harmful as alcohol in this new analysis. They conclude: “Our findings lend support to previous work in the UK and the Netherlands, confirming that the present drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm. “”They also accord with the conclusions of previous expert reports that aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy.”