“Alcohol is more harmful than heroin or crack, according to a study published in medical journal the Lancet. The report is co-authored by Professor David Nutt, the former UK chief drugs adviser who was sacked by the government in October 2009. It ranks 20 drugs on 16 measures of harm to users and to wider society. Tobacco and cocaine are judged to be equally harmful, while ecstasy and LSD are among the least damaging.”
“The findings run contrary to the government’s long-established drug classification system, but the paper’s authors argue that their system – based on the consensus of experts – provides an accurate assessment of harm for policy makers. “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,” the paper says. “They also accord with the conclusions of previous expert reports that aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy.” In 2007, Prof Nutt and colleagues undertook a limited attempt to create a harm ranking system, sparking controversy over the criteria and the findings.”
“The adviser, Dr. David Nutt, said in a lecture that alcohol is more hazardous than many outlawed substances, and that the United Kingdom might be making a mistake in throwing marijuana smokers in jail. His comments were published in a press release in October, and the next day he was dismissed. The buzz over his sacking has yet to subside: Nutt has become the talk of pubs and Parliament, as well as the subject of tabloid headlines like: “Drug advisor on wacky baccy?” But behind Nutt’s words lay something perhaps more surprising, and harder to grapple with. His comments weren’t the idle musings of a reality-insulated professor in a policy job. They were based on a list – a scientifically compiled ranking of drugs, assembled by specialists in chemistry, health, and enforcement, published in a prestigious medical journal two years earlier.
The list, printed as a chart with the unassuming title “Mean Harm Scores for 20 Substances,” ranked a set of common drugs, both legal and illegal, in order of their harmfulness – how addictive they were, how physically damaging, and how much they threatened society. Many drug specialists now consider it one of the most objective sources available on the actual harmfulness of different substances. That ranking showed, with numbers, what Nutt was fired for saying out loud: Overall, alcohol is far worse than many illegal drugs. So is tobacco. Smoking pot is less harmful than drinking, and LSD is less damaging yet.
Nutt says he didn’t see himself as promoting drug use or trying to subvert the government. He was pressing the point that a government policy, especially a health-related one like a drug law, should be grounded in factual information. In doing so, he found himself caught in a crossfire that cost him the advisory post he had held for a decade.”