Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Take that shot with a grain of salt

No doubt you have heard or read about the new "study" that finds alcohol is more harmful than heroin or crack. Wellllll .. .

It's not really a study. Dr. Nutt -- who was fired as head of a UK government advisory commission on drug abuse for saying that cannabis is less harmful than legal drugs -- basically got a bunch of people together, and they sat around and ranked drugs on the basis of various criteria of harm. Once they added up all the votes, alcohol won.

I'm not saying this is a useless exercise, but presumably, if they had recruited a different group of experts, they might have gotten a different result. Also, you might weight the criteria differently. And, uhh, one reason why alcohol is particularly harmful is because more people use it than any of the other drugs. Finally, they divided harms into those to the user, and those to others and "society." Tobacco gets off easy on the latter, in large part because it's legal. A lot of the harm done by many of the drugs stems from their illegality, whereas alcohol's harm profile is greatly enhanced by its acceptability and ready availability. Meth is down the list, even though it is extremely destructive to users, largely because it isn't very popular in the UK. So as a guide to public policy, this is pretty confusing.

I have my own opinions, obviously. Had I been on the panel, the whole thing might have come out differently, or I might have decided that the criteria are too vague and/or inappropriate. But, the basic idea that prohibition and other policy responses to drug use and abuse doesn't make any sense is one I totally accept.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is getting crazy press considering what it actually is. Another failure of science communication, go figure.