Alcohol Most Harmful Drug

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A group of British scientific experts has concluded that when combining its effects on the individual and on society, alcohol far outpaces other substances as the most harmful drug, the Associated Press reported Nov. 1.

The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, meeting via an interactive workshop, used multicriteria decision analysis to evaluate drugs’ effects on the body and their impacts on society, including effects on families and on costs in areas such as health care and corrections. Heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine were ranked in the analysis as the most lethal drugs to the individual, but alcohol, heroin and crack were judged most harmful to others.

The combined harm score for alcohol was the highest, at 72 out of a possible 100, followed by heroin (55) and crack (54).

The authors explained that the rankings, based on 16 criteria, do not correspond to how drugs are currently classified in the United Kingdom. For example, last year the British government increased penalties for possession of marijuana, a drug that ranked far below alcohol and other illegal drugs in the experts’ assessment of overall harm.

“What governments decide is illegal is not always based on science,” said Wim van den Brink, professor of psychiatry and addiction at the University of Amsterdam.

Yet study co-author Leslie King, an adviser to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs, urged against interpreting the results as a call for alcohol prohibition. “Alcohol is too embedded in our culture and it won’t go away,” King said.

The findings were published online Nov. 1 2010 in The Lancet.

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