Front-page news in the Guardian today: A study published Friday in the online edition of the British medical journal Lancet declaring alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the United Kingdom—much more dangerous than heroin and crack, or even tobacco.
The study turns conventional perceptions on their heads by classifying alcohol along with heroin and crack as “Class A” dangerous drugs, with alcohol in the far in the lead. Behind the top three come crystal meth, cocaine, tobacco, amphetamines and cannabis.
The drugs were scored on 16 harm criteria, from drug-specific and drug-related mortality and damage at the top, through dependence, impairment of mental functioning, loss of tangibles and relationships, injury, crime, family adversities, environmental and international damage and economic cost. Scores ranged from 0 (no harm) to 100 (maximum harm), with each point indicating an equal measure of “harm”—so a drug scoring 50 (roughly, crack) was considered to be 25 percent less harmful than a drug scoring 75 (roughly, booze).
Amazing. But what we’ve always known, right?
That’s not to say that if crack were legal, it wouldn’t score higher.
One question I had: If, as various sources state, tobacco is causing more than 100,000 deaths in the UK each year (roughly one-quarter to one-fifth of the deaths it causes in the US), why does tobacco rank so low on the list? In 2008, according to the UK Office for National Statistics, alcohol caused 9,000 deaths. They must think alcohol has greater collateral damage than tobacco—I’d like to hear about why they think this is more important.
Another question: Where were the prescription drugs? Methadone and buprenorphine are the only ones appearing on this list. Maybe they’re more tightly regulated in the UK—but in the US, OxyContin and Vicodin would be on this scale somewhere, and I’d like to know where they would rank.