Alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the UK by a considerable margin, beating heroin and crack cocaine into second and third place, according to an authoritative study published today which will reopen calls for the drugs classification system to be scrapped and a concerted campaign launched against drink.
Led by the sacked government drugs adviser David Nutt with colleagues 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.
Monday's paper, published by the Lancet medical journal, will be seen as a challenge to the government to take on the issue of the relative harms of legal and illegal drugs.
Nutt was sacked last year by the home secretary at the time, Alan Johnson, for challenging ministers’ refusal to take the advice of the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which he chaired.
The new paper updates a study carried out by Nutt and others in 2007, which was also published by the Lancet and triggered debate for suggesting that legally available alcohol and tobacco were more dangerous than cannabis and LSD.
Alcohol, in that paper, ranked fifth most dangerous overall. The 2007 paper also called for an overhaul of the drug classification system.
Monday's study offers a more complex analysis that seeks to address the 2007 criticisms. It examines nine categories of harm that drugs can do to the individual “from death to damage to mental functioning and loss of relationships” and seven types of harm to others.
The maximum possible harm score was 100 and the minimum zero. Overall, alcohol scored 72 — against 55 for heroin and 54 for crack. gns