Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Drugs v society.

Prof David Nutt has published a report in the Lancet that looks at the top 20 drugs (legal and illegal) and ranks them on the basis of the harm they cause in the UK on a society wide basis. Using this approach, and given that alcohol is legal and widely consumed, alcohol is rated the most damaging, more so than any illegal drug, including heroin, crack and crystal meth. On this basis, tobacco does not make it into the top 5.

Prof Nutt was head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, a statutory body required by law to provide scientific evidence to the government about the dangers posed by drugs, in order that they can be classified into category A (the most harmful) to category C (the least harmful). Prof Nutt was fired from this position by the Home Secretary after making comments deemed to be political rather than scientific. At this time Prof Nutt established the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD), to continue the work without government interference.

The paper in the Lancet was published on behalf of the ISCD and appears today on the same date as a one-day international conference on the topic of drugs classifications, run jointly by the Lancet and the ISCD.

The ISCD and external experts used the government’s 16 current criteria (9 personal, 7 re impact on society) and ran these through a scoring exercise for the top 20 drugs. What they found was this produces classifications out of step with the category A to C rankings for many of these drugs.

The totals for a given drug considering both personal and society impact could hit a maximum of 100.

On personal harm the top 3 were crack (37), heroin (34) and crystal meth (32). On harm to society the top 3 were alcohol (46), heroin (21) and crack (17). On the combined score (out of 100), the worst 3 were alcohol (72), heroin (55) and crack (54).

The total for tobacco was 27, just one short of cocaine and lagging crystal meth (33).

These totals apply to how the drugs are used in the UK, not elsewhere.  However, the point of the paper was to try to come up with a classification that is evidence-based re whole society impact.

Today’s joint Lancet/ICSD international conference has speakers from the EU, the Netherlands, Portugal and the UK. Having decided alcohol is the worst drug in use in the UK, the conference ends with a drinks reception from 5pm to 7pm for “drinks and canapes”.


November 1, 2010 - Posted by | Alcohol, David Nutt, News, Politics, Science, Smoking, UK

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