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Here's a bit of a shocker: according to a new study alcohol is more harmful than crack, heroin, or ecstasy. "How can that be?" you might ask. British scientists, led by Dr. David Nutt (unfortunate name for a doctor) analyzed over 20 drugs based on physical harm to the user, addictive properties, and the effect of the drug's use on families, communities, and society. The comprehensive study, published in the "The Lancet," analyzed drugs and drug policy factors including economic costs, rates of incarceration and social services.
While the study found that heroin, crack and crystal meth were the three deadliest to an individual, alcohol was the most dangerous to society at large. The second and third most dangerous drugs for society were heroin and crack. Alcohol scored so high, in part, because it is so widely used and can have a major impact on those around them: car crashes, violent outbursts, sex crimes and other such incidents. Alcohol is involved in a greater percentage of crime than other drugs, including heroin. In addition, too much drinking causes major damage to the body, impacting nearly every human organ.
"What governments decide is illegal is not always based on science," says Leslie King, an adviser to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and one of the study's authors, CBS News reports. "Drugs that are legal cause at least as much damage, if not more, than drugs that are illicit."
Comparatively, marijuana, ecstasy and LSD scored far lower. Experts say that the findings of the study are troubling, because the criminal classifications of drugs do not relate to their relative harms to the user, or to society. Dr. Nutt was critical of the British government after it increased its penalties for marijuana possession last year. His criticism of the move led to him being fired from his job as Chief Drugs Advisor of the United Kingdom.
What should we take away from this? The message isn't that more people should consume more mind-altering drugs. Instead, perhaps the study should be considered a cue to take a look at our own drug policies and ask whether they make sense. Are the penalties in any way related to the dangers? Does it make sense for possession of drugs like LSD and ecstasy to be penalized on a higher level than other drugs when they have a significantly lower harm to society?
Despite the mid-term elections, there seems to be very little conversation taking place in law and politics on such questions. When it comes to running for office, it is still considered a death blow to be in favor of legalization of drugs or soft on crime.