Alcohol more dangerous than crack, heroin and Ecstasy

Originally appeared at: Alcohol is a more dangerous drug than heroin or crack cocaine, a study claims. Scientists have found that alcohol is the most harmful drug overall and three times as harmful as cocaine and tobacco, according to a new scale of drug harm that rates the damage to both users and to wider society. Ecstasy is only an eighth as harmful as alcohol, according to the new analysis, led by the controversial sacked government drugs adviser David Nutt with colleagues from the breakaway Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. The study says that if drugs were classified on the basis of the harm they do, alcohol would be class A, alongside heroin and crack cocaine. The findings of the study, published in the Lancet today, are likely to reignite the debate over the government’s drugs classification system. Professor David Nutt was sacked last year by then home secretary Alan Johnson after he challenged ministers over their refusal to take the advice of the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which he chaired. The committee wanted cannabis to remain a class C drug and for ecstasy to be downgraded from class A, arguing that these were less harmful than other drugs when social factors were taken into consideration. Professor Nutt, 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.’ In his study, Professor Nutt and his team examined nine categories of harm that drugs can do to the individual ‘from death to damage to mental functioning and loss of relationships’, as well as seven types of harm to others. Overall, alcohol scored 72 out of a maximum ‘harm’ score of 100, compared to 55 for heroin and 54 for crack. And while the most dangerous drugs to individual users were judged to be heroin, crack and then crystal meth, alcohol was deemed most harmful to society, followed by heroin and then crack. Nutt told the Lancet a new classification system ‘would depend on what set of harms “to self or others” you are trying to reduce’. ‘But if you take overall harm, then alcohol, heroin and crack are clearly more harmful than all others, so perhaps drugs with a score of 40 or more could be class A; 39 to 20 class B; 19-10 class C and 10 or under class D,’ he added. This reclassification would result in tobacco being labelled a class B drug alongside cocaine. Cannabis would also just make class B, rather than class C. Ecstasy and LSD would end up in the lowest drug category, D. The Home Office said last night: ‘We have not read the report. This government has just completed an alcohol consultation and will publish a drugs strategy in the coming months.’ A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘In England, most people drink once a week or less. If you’re a women and stick to two to three units a day or a man and drink up to three or four units, you are unlikely to damage your health. ‘The government is determined to prevent alcohol abuse without disadvantaging those who drink sensibly.’ Two experts from the Amsterdam National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and the Amsterdam Institute for Addiction Research point out in a Lancet commentary the study does not look at multiple drug use, which can make some drugs much more dangerous – such as cocaine or cannabis together with alcohol – but they acknowledge the topic was outside its scope. They add that because the pattern of recreational drug use changes, the study should be repeated every five or 10 years. Another article on the findings of a study conducted by David Nutt which might reignite the debate on the government’s drug classification system.