Alcohol 'more harmful than heroin or crack'

Charlie - posted on 10/31/2010 ( 27 moms have responded )

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Alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the UK by a considerable margin, beating heroin and crack cocaine into second and third place, according to an authoritative study published today which will reopen calls for the drugs classification system to be scrapped and a concerted campaign launched against drink.

Led by the 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.

Today's paper, published by the respected Lancet medical journal, will be seen as a challenge to the government to take on the fraught issue of the relative harms of legal and illegal drugs, which proved politically damaging to Labour.

Nutt was sacked last year by the home secretary at the time, Alan Johnson, for challenging ministers' 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. Nutt claimed scientific evidence was overruled for political reasons.

The new paper updates a study carried out by Nutt and others in 2007, which was also published by the Lancet and triggered debate for suggesting that legally available alcohol and tobacco were more dangerous than cannabis and LSD.

Alcohol, in that paper, ranked fifth most dangerous overall. The 2007 paper also called for an overhaul of the drug classification system, but critics disputed the criteria used to rank the drugs and the absence of differential weighting.

Today's study offers a more complex analysis that seeks to address the 2007 criticisms. It examines nine categories of harm that drugs can do to the individual "from death to damage to mental functioning and loss of relationships" and seven types of harm to others. The maximum possible harm score was 100 and the minimum zero.

Overall, alcohol scored 72 – against 55 for heroin and 54 for crack. The most dangerous drugs to their individual users were ranked as heroin, crack and then crystal meth. The most harmful to others were alcohol, heroin and crack in that order.

Nutt told the Guardian the drug classification system needed radical change. "The Misuse of Drugs Act is past its sell-by date and needs to be redone," he said. "We need to rethink how we deal with drugs in the light of these new findings."

For overall harm, the other drugs examined ranked as follows: crystal meth (33), cocaine (27), tobacco (26), amphetamine/speed (23), cannabis (20), GHB (18), benzodiazepines (15), ketamine (15), methadone (13), butane (10), qat (9), ecstasy (9), anabolic steroids (9), LSD (7), buprenorphine (6) and magic mushrooms (5).

The authors write: "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 harm is a valid and necessary public health strategy."

Nutt told the Lancet a new classification system "would depend on what set of harms 'to self or others' you are trying to reduce". He added: "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." This 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.

He was not suggesting classification was unnecessary: "We do need a classification system – we do need to regulate the ones that are very harmful to individuals like heroin and crack cocaine." But he thought the UK could learn from the Portuguese and Dutch: "They have innovative policies which could reduce criminalisation." Representatives of both countries will be at a summit in London today, called drug science and drug policy: building a consensus, where the study will be presented.

UK reformers will be hoping the coalition government will take a more evidence-based approach to classification and tackling drugs than Labour did. The Liberal Democrats supported Nutt over his sacking, while Conservative leader David Cameron, who got into trouble at Eton, aged 15, for smoking cannabis, acknowledged the Misuse of Drugs Act was not working during his time as an MP on the Home Affairs select committee.

Nutt called for far more effort to be put into reducing harm caused by alcohol, pointing out that its economic costs, as well as the costs to society of addiction and broken families, are very high. Taxation on alcohol is "completely inappropriate", he said – with strong cider, for instance, taxed at a fifth of the rate of wine – and action should particularly target the low cost and promotion of alcohol such as Bacardi breezers to young people.

Don Shenker, the chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said : "What this study and new classification shows is that successive governments have mistakenly focused attention on illicit drugs, whereas the pervading harms from alcohol should have given a far higher priority. Drug misusers are still ten times more likely to receive support for their addiction than alcohol misusers, costing the taxpayer billions in repeat hospital admissions and alcohol related crime. Alcohol misuse has been exacerbated in recent years as government failed to accept the link between cheap prices, higher consumption and resultant harms to individuals and society."

"[The] government should now urgently ensure alcohol is made less affordable and invest in prevention and treatment services to deal with the rise in alcohol dependency that has occurred."

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.

What are your thoughts / opinions ?

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27 Comments

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Sarah - posted on 11/02/2010

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I kind of agree with the study, although I can totally see Cathy's point of that if these illegal drugs were made legal, it would change the way the stats.

I've been a recreational drug user in the past, taking "party drugs" like speed and ecstasy, I think I was much more in control and aware of what I was doing than the times I used to get really drunk!

I think alcohol is extremely damaging to people's lives, sure, some people can enjoy drinking in a responsible way, but there are many others that drink so much, they put themselves in danger. I know a girl that gets SO drunk every time she goes out, that she can't remember where she's been or what she's done. She often wanders off on her own, she's been violent towards people and she's been attacked twice and raped once because she she was so out of it. (not saying it's her fault, but being THAT drunk certainly didn't help!)

In the same way, some people can take drugs now and again, have a good time, and then get on with their lives. Other's can't. It's not one size fits all, people react differently.

Crack and Heroin I wouldn't really be so keen to legalise to be honest, but some of the other recreational drugs, I think are no worse than alcohol or cigarettes.

Sal - posted on 11/02/2010

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i think drinking is more dangerous or a bigger problem to the community as a whole as it is more common and more people use it, bing drinking is a huge problem here at the moment as is drink driving but i do think that heroin and hard drugs are probally worse or more dangerous for the indvidual as they are so addictive, and the decline is often so quick, i know that people get addicted to alchole very quickly but you could drink socially every weekend of your adult life and not become addicted where as the same can't be said for the others, maybe some people can use it as a party treat and not become addicted but not in the same manner as drinking...and i know from personal experience while the police get so sick of drunk drivers and dealing with the effects of drinking such as fights and domestic voilence having to deal with someone high on meth or speed is a more dangerous situation..

Charlie - posted on 11/01/2010

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DRUG : any article, other than food, intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of humans or other animals.

Yep Alcohol is a drug :D

Kate CP - posted on 11/01/2010

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Crack users and heroine users can be just as violent and can cause as much damage as those under the influence of alcohol.

Charlie - posted on 11/01/2010

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I can happily say i no longer take 11 of those drugs .



As a person who has taken majority of those drugs in the past as well as alcohol i can safely say alcohol is the most addictive and dangerous drug i have experianced .



I also do not believe drugs should be illegal , believe me if someone wants drugs they can find it ....easily .



Although i am sure the legality does make the statistics higher for alcohol i think culture plays a huge part and while it is something to mention (legality ) over all the fact remains regardless that alcohol is the most abused and dangerous drug available .

Lyndsay - posted on 11/01/2010

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Having done crack cocaine and been around people shooting heroin, I must say I have to agree that alcohol is more harmful. Crack will make a person spastic and anxious, and heroin will make a person fall asleep. But alcohol makes people violent and belligerent.

Jodi - posted on 11/01/2010

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I do agree, the study is skewed and flawed, but it has some merit. So many people take alcohol to be such an innocent, no problem, part of society...but it kills just like any other drug...so yes, I think it should be ranked as a drug. Should it be illegal? No, neither should pot though!
As the daughter of an alcoholic (reformed now, hasn't had a drop since I was 11 bless his soul) I can tell you first hand alcohol is nothing to take for granted. For those who can't handle it, it is just as addictive as crack or heroin. My sister was hit by a drunk driver when she was 18 (20ish years ago) and is now permamently paralyzed from the waist down, depending on a wheel chair for mobility...what happened to that guy? He paid her medical expenses and spent a month in jail. There definately need to be stricter regulations and punishments on alcohol than there are now...people getting arrested 3 or 4 times for drunk driving before any serious consequences (sorry, I don't consider a fine and night in the drunk tank a serious consequence) is ridiculous. Not sure what those regulations should be, but I do think something needs to change.

[deleted account]

But 10? That's A LOT! And....I don't really have that shady a past. Or....maybe I do, I guess!?!?

[deleted account]

"For overall harm, the other drugs examined ranked as follows: crystal meth (33), cocaine (27), tobacco (26), amphetamine/speed (23), cannabis (20), GHB (18), benzodiazepines (15), ketamine (15), methadone (13), butane (10), qat (9), ecstasy (9), anabolic steroids (9), LSD (7), buprenorphine (6) and magic mushrooms (5)."

WOW! What does it say to me that I've done 10 of the drugs named in that article? YIKES!

[deleted account]

I agree Kati but I think that is because alcohol is socially accepted and heroin is not. Alcohol has been legal for many many years even though we know it can be detrimental.

[deleted account]

IMO if drugs were made legal I personally wouldn't buy then as I actually have some brains! But the people who would suffer would be teens who are pressured into doing drugs. Yes some are already but the problem would be bigger if they were made legal.

Rosie - posted on 11/01/2010

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yeah, my bio-father and my sister are both alcoholics. my bio-dad was a piece of shit until the alcohol killed him, and my sister and i havn't talked in 4 years because of her problems with alcohol. it kills and destroys families. i'm biased i know. but i really don't think that it heroin was legal that as many people would be going out and getting some. more would, definitley, but not nearly as many as alcohol.

[deleted account]

Yep tell me about it, I have had experience of both in my family and I have friends who have issues with drug use, although they are not what you would expect of typical addicts (my friends) they are very successful people. It's quite scary.

[deleted account]

Let's just say I'm glad not to know anyone who is a drig addict or alcoholic! People who are family of those affected go through hell!

[deleted account]

I would say it's pretty even for which is most abused. Many people abuse both alcohol and drugs and then others just abuse one, it's just drug abuse seems worse because they are illegal.

[deleted account]

At the end of the day lowering the prices of alcohol won't do anything to lower binge drinking IMO. It's education that's needed...and some people just need their heads banging together!

Rosie - posted on 11/01/2010

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i dont' know, you'd think that they would account for the fact that alcohol is illegal and heroin isn't. i'd like to actually know for sure that that wasn't taken into consideration when doing this study before making a comment, cause i actually would have to think it could be true.

[deleted account]

The study is flawed fullstop...yes here in the UK there is a problem with binge drinking but there are many more people who drink than those who take drugs, because alcohol is legal and drugs are illegal. Regardless of that problem there are many more people who abuse drugs here than alcohol.

Sharon - posted on 11/01/2010

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Your version of the study is skewed. The original stated at because alcohol had a MUCH wider use and also took in the numbers of the people around the drinker affected i.e. drunk driver victims.

INDIVIDUALLY - heroin & crack are still more deadly.

Kate CP - posted on 11/01/2010

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Krista: Benzos I do believe are in the same category as Quaaludes. Alcohol when abused can be as bad as heavy narcotics but for MOST people it doesn't have the same addictive effect on them as narcotics do. Heroine, cocaine, and meth all produce excess amounts of dopamine (the happy/pleasure/love hormone) and your body will actually go into withdrawal without it. Alcohol does the same thing but not in the same amounts. Meth can cause dopamine levels to spike dangerously high to the point that the brain will shut down the receptors because it's being over loaded. So, when abused, alcohol can and probably is just as bad as heavy narcotics. But if you're having a glass of wine with dinner I hardly see the comparison. :/

Krista - posted on 11/01/2010

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I don't think the study was really looking at overall per capita use, though, but more at the harm done to the individual and to society by those substances. I mean, benzodiazepines (whatever the fuck THOSE) are, were rated higher than ecstasy, which I would assume is more widely used.

[deleted account]

I agree with Cathy, alcohol and tobacco are both legal so that skews the stats. Also I cannot see how the government can classify alcohol and tobacco in the drugs list because I cannot see how they could make it illegal, the tax earned from both of these products brings the government a lot of revenue.

♏*PHOENIX*♏ - posted on 11/01/2010

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Here in the U.S I believe prescription drugs should be added to the list, because here in Seattle there is a crazy pandemic going on…

I do think alcohol is just as bad as crack and heroin…

They legalize prescription drugs that have some of the same affects as crack/heroin (and has attributed to many accidents)
They legalize alcohol that can be just as bad….and yet

“Mary Jane” is not legal…

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