As has been covered extensively elsewhere, David Nutt and his colleagues at the newly formed Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs have reported their assessment of the harm of 19 common drugs. (See figure) The report in the Lancet created weighted measures of risk of harm to self (9 critiera) and to others (7 criteria). The overall scores were arrived at by combining the scaled consensus scores of 9 experts on each individual criteria according to a weighting of how important that criteria was.
The harm to self criteria included physical, psychological and social factors, such as drug-specific and drug-related mortality, damage and mental impairment. The harm to others criteria primarily focused on the social costs in the home, the community and the wider world. The overall scores are shown in the figure.
The most striking finding is that alcohol is easily the most socially harmful drug and even to the user himself it is only marginally behind heroin, crack and crystal-meth. Although this is not such a surprise as it accords well with other research into the risks of alcohol.
Howver, the other striking finding is that the new ranking bears “effectively no relation” to the current UK drug schedule (Class A, Class B, etc.) The correlation was just 0.04 between the government’s classification and the harm the drugs cause. As the authors suggest this maybe because policy is based on considerations other than just harm. They do not elaborate on what these may be but that is not their job. At least not anymore.
And obviously that correlation is massively skewed by the alcohol score, I have just redone that calculation. I correlated these new risk scores with the maximum length of prison sentence you might receive for possession (7, 5 & 2 year for Class A, B, C respectively). For all 19 drugs this gives a figure of 0.05, leaving out the legal drugs and the correlation is still only a very feeble 0.37. You can see my spreadsheet here. This leads me to conclude that the government were right to sack Professor Nutt because they clearly aren’t interested in his view of the dangers.
Nutt DJ, King LA, Phillips LD, & on behalf of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (2010). Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis. Lancet, 376 (9752), 1558-1565 PMID: 21036393
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