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Study: Alcohol More Dangerous Than Heroin, Crack

November 1, 2010

When both the effects on the individual and the impact on society as whole is taken into account, alcohol is more dangerous than heroin or crack cocaine, claims a new study published in UK scientific journal The Lancet.

In their report, former British government drug advisor David Nutt and researchers with the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) tested 20 drugs using 16 different measures of harm caused both to the individual taking the substance as well as to wider society.

Alcohol topped the list, primarily because of its potential to cause harm to others. Heroin and crack finished second and third, respectively, followed in order by methamphetamines, cocaine, tobacco, amphetamines, cannabis, GHB, benzodiazepines, ketamine, methadone, mephadrone, butane, khat, anabolic steroids, ecstasy, LSD, buprenophine, and mushrooms.

“It is intriguing to note that the two legal drugs assessed–alcohol and tobacco–score in the upper segment of the ranking scale, indicating that legal drugs cause at least as much harm as do illegal substances,” Nutt, the one-time head of the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said in a statement that was reprinted by Kate Kelland of Reuters.

“Overall, alcohol is the most harmful drug because it’s so widely used,” Nutt added in comments made to BBC News. “Crack cocaine is more addictive than alcohol but because alcohol is so widely used there are hundreds of thousands of people who crave alcohol every day, and those people will go to extraordinary lengths to get it.”

Among the different criteria considered for each of the substances were the risk of death, damage to health or mental capabilities, drug dependence, and the loss of relationships. Furthermore, each drug was graded for its potential link to crime, environmental damage, family conflict, economic costs in terms of health care and the prison system, among other factors.

The maximum possible score was 100, with alcohol scoring a 72 overall, heroin scoring a 55 overall, and crack scoring 54 overall. No other substance topped 40 on the grading chart.

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