Alcohol more dangerous than heroin, cocaine, study finds British researchers ranked substances by amount
of harm to the individual and others
By MARIA CHENG
AP Associated Press
updated 11/1/2010 2:46:35 AM ET 2010-11-01T06:46:35
Alcohol is more dangerous than illegal
drugs like heroin and crack cocaine, according to a new study.
British experts evaluated substances including
alcohol, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and marijuana,
ranking them based on how destructive they are to
the individual who takes them and to society as a whole.
Researchers analyzed how addictive a drug is and
how it harms the human body, in addition to other
criteria like environmental damage caused by the
drug, its role in breaking up families and its
economic costs, such as health care, social services, and prison.
Heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamines, or
crystal meth, were the most lethal to
individuals. When considering their wider social
effects and harm to others, alcohol, heroin and
crack cocaine were the deadliest. But overall,
alcohol outranked all other substances, followed
by heroin and crack cocaine. Marijuana, ecstasy and LSD scored far lower.
The study was paid for by Britain’s Centre for
Crime and Justice Studies and was published
online Monday in the medical journal, Lancet.
Experts said alcohol scored so high because it is
so widely used and has devastating consequences
not only for drinkers but for those around them.
“Just think about what happens (with alcohol) at
every football game,” said Wim van den Brink, a
professor of psychiatry and addiction at the
University of Amsterdam. He was not linked to the
study and co-authored a commentary in the Lancet.
When drunk in excess, alcohol damages nearly all
organ systems. It is also connected to higher
death rates and is involved in a greater
percentage of crime than most other drugs, including heroin.
But experts said it would be impractical and incorrect to outlaw alcohol.
“We cannot return to the days of prohibition,”
said Leslie King, an adviser to the European
Monitoring Centre for Drugs and one of the
study’s authors. “Alcohol is too embedded in our culture and it won’t go away.”
King said countries should target problem
drinkers, not the vast majority of people who
indulge in a drink or two. He said governments
should consider more education programs and
raising the price of alcohol so it isn’t as widely available.
Experts said the study should prompt countries to
reconsider how they classify drugs. For example,
last year in Britain, the government increased
its penalties for the possession of marijuana.
One of its senior advisers, David Nutt ? the lead
author on the Lancet study ? was fired after he
criticized the British decision.
“What governments decide is illegal is not always
based on science,” said van den Brink. He said
considerations about revenue and taxation, like
those garnered from the alcohol and tobacco
industries, may influence decisions about which
substances to regulate or outlaw.
“Drugs that are legal cause at least as much
damage, if not more, than drugs that are illicit,” he said.