Alcohol ‘more harmful than heroin’

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Alcohol ‘more harmful than heroin’ says Prof David Nutt

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Alcohol is more harmful than heroin or crack, according to a study published in medical journal the Lancet. The report is co-authored by Professor David Nutt, the former UK chief drugs adviser who was sacked by the British government in October 2009.

It ranks 20 drugs on 16 measures of harm to users and to wider society. Tobacco and cocaine are judged to be equally harmful, while ecstasy and LSD are among the least damaging.

Prof Nutt refused to leave the drugs debate when he was sacked from his official post by the former Labour Home Secretary, Alan Johnson. He went on to form the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, a body which aims to investigate the drug issue without any political interference. One of its other members is Dr Les King, another former government advisor who quit over Prof Nutt’s treatment.

Classification system

Members of the group, joined by two other experts, scored each drug for harms including mental and physical damage, addiction, crime and costs to the economy and communities. The modelling exercise concluded that heroin, crack and methylamphetamine were the most harmful drugs to individuals, but alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine were the most harmful to others.

“If you take overall harm, then alcohol, heroin and crack are clearly more harmful than all others” states Prof David Nutt Former UK chief drugs adviser

When the scores for both types of harm were added together, alcohol emerged as the most harmful drug, followed by heroin and crack. The findings run contrary to the government’s long-established drug classification system, but the paper’s authors argue that their system – based on the consensus of experts – provides an accurate assessment of harm for policy makers.

“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,” the paper says. “They also accord with the conclusions of previous expert reports that aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy.”

In 2007, Prof Nutt and colleagues undertook a limited attempt to create a harm ranking system, sparking controversy over the criteria and the findings.

Our Opinions

One only has to look at the National Statistics to see that the national rates of alcohol related deaths exceed the number of heroin related deaths by around 2000%. It is greatly welcomed by Drug and Alcohol Rehab that this debate is actually getting some real media coverage and attention. We live amongst a binge drinking society with 1 in 3 effected. We need social reform if ever we are going to tackle this problem effectively.


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