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FAQ: Alcohol Vs. Heroin

Sacked government drugs adviser David Nutt publishes investigation in Lancet reopening debate on classification for alcohol.


What is the study ‘alcohol being more harmful than heroin or crack’ about?

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.

Who has carried out the study?

The study has been led by the sacked government drugs adviser Professor David Nutt with colleagues. Professor David Nutt was Britain’s former chief drugs adviser who was sacked by the government in October 2009.

Why has the study been released now?

The study has updated and extended the 2007 ‘Development of a rational scale to assess the ham of drugs of potential misuse’ by Professor David Nutt and colleagues.

What does the study look at?

The study looks at 20 drugs in total amongst these were heroin, crack, alcohol, ecstasy and marijuana.

The study comprises of a 16-point checklist – nine factors relating to harm to the user, and seven more measuring harm to others.

  • physical harm to the user
  • how addictive it is
  • the effect of its use on families, communities, and society
  • economic costs like health care, social services, and prison

The checklist produces a score out of 100 and therefore the higher the score, the greater the danger.

What does the study’s results show?

The study shows that heroin, crack and crystal meth are deadliest to the individual user, but when their wider social effects are taken into consideration, alcohol is the most damaging, followed by heroin and crack.

Excessive drinking damages nearly all organ systems, and is also connected to higher death rates. The study shows that alcohol was related to a large percentage of crime than most other drugs, including heroin. Marijuana, ecstasy and LSD scored far lower, according to the study.

The scores of each drug (out of 100):

Alcohol (72)

Heroin (55)

Crack (54)

Crystal Meth (33)

Cocaine (27)

Tobacco (26)

Amphetamines (Speed) – (23)

Cannabis (20)

GHB (18)

Benzodiazapines (15)

Ketamine (15)

Methadone (13)

Butane (10)

Qat (9)

Ecstasy (9)

What does the study not take into consideration?

The Lancet paper does not examine the harm caused to users by taking more than one drug at a time.


Useful links

Interview with Professor David Nutt for the BBC

Daily Mail article about release of new study by Professor David Nutt

2007 Study conducted by Professor David Nutt and colleagues

All publications by Professor David Nutt

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