An article published Nov. 1 by the Toronto Star summarized a medical study with a controversial conclusion.
The study graded the danger of legal and illegal drugs on a 16-point scale, taking into account the effect of each drug on both the user and others.
The study found that alcohol is a more dangerous drug than heroin, crack and other illegal drugs. David Nutt, the psychiatrist and neuropyschopharmacologist behind the study, cites the results as evidence that governments need to reconsider waging war against hard drugs.
Nutt was fired from his position as chair of the United Kingdom’s Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs after repeatedly clashing with the government’s rigid stance on illegal drugs.
His perspective is endorsed by Dr. Jurgen Rehm, a scientist at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Rehm suggests the solution may lie in hiking alcohol taxes and limiting alcohol advertising, which often entices minors. The article was published on healthzone.ca, the Star’s online health supplement.
It’s difficult to reconcile the conclusion of Nutt’s study. Most people drink alcohol without serious side-effects; this cannot be said of people who smoke crack.
Alcohol can be dangerous, but measuring it alongside hard drugs feels like a comparison of issues that differ greatly in severity.
It’s important to note that Nutt’s study was published in The Lancet, one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals in the world. It’s quite likely that his conclusions are valid within the framework and analysis he conducted.
The real problem with grasping Nutt’s study lies in how it is described in the Star’s article. The article provides a simplistic summary of the framework Nutt used to arrive at his conclusion, which is helpful for a non-expert audience. However, the Star article doesn’t connect the dots, focusing heavily on Nutt’s conclusion: the numerical “harm” number assigned to each drug.
While it’s easy to find Nutt’s study online, it’s difficult to sift through the technical jargon and detail. It would have been of great benefit to the reader if the Star had addressed a complex topic in more detail.
The study arrived at its conclusion based on the fact that because alcohol is so wide-spread, the issues it raises create a greater burden on the average taxpayer than illegal drugs. Ultimately, covering a story with such unexpected implications needs to involve more than a blurb about an outrageous conclusion.
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