The Dim-Post

November 3, 2010

Chart of the day, somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert edition

Filed under: drugs,Politics — danylmc @ 6:58 am

Via Reason, a new Lancet study into the comparative harmfulness of 20 different drugs of abuse according to 16 criteria on a scale of 100.

The first caveat is that alcohol is legal, and thus cheap and widely available. So if you make heroin and crack cocaine legal then you could quickly see them overtake alcohol – and if they’re legal then companies that manufacture and distribute the drug can lobby the government, so it becomes very difficult to mitigate the harm because the people that profit from it write the laws regulating it. Although the authors note:

Many of the harms of drugs are affected by their availability and legal status. Ideally, a model needs to distinguish between the harms resulting directly from drug use and those resulting from the control system for that drug.

But look at LSD and ecstasy down there at the far right. Those are Class A drugs, the manufacture, importation or sale of which is punishable with life imprisonment – although the harm they cause is ~1/10th that of alcohol. The obvious conclusion here is that having politicians regulate the sale and prohibition of drugs has been an expensive, catastrophic failure. They’re corrupt and ignorant and have no idea what they’re doing. We need an independent body of trained professionals making these decisions.

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35 Comments »

  1. They tried the independent body in the UK led by the aptly named Professor Nutt, the enlightened Nutt made a reccomendation that the politicians didnt like and he was dismissed.
    All drugs in Portugal are legal (heroin included)and they seem to do fine, obviously helps them ignore the financial crisis.

    Comment by David — November 3, 2010 @ 7:20 am

  2. Interesting that almost all of the harm caused by LSD (And mushrooms, it should be noted) is mental impairment. In fact, LSD directly causes greater mental impairment than alcohol.

    Thoughts?

    Comment by Simon Poole — November 3, 2010 @ 7:37 am

  3. Libiterianz propaganda.

    Comment by Simon — November 3, 2010 @ 7:38 am

  4. Amfetamine ???!!??

    Lots of relationship break ups in khat usage..And i would have thought the crime and injury measure would have been higher for booze, but yay for community…

    Comment by andy (the other one) — November 3, 2010 @ 7:39 am

  5. We need an independent body of trained professionals making these decisions.

    That’s why the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs was formed in 1999 or thereabouts. Then the EACD prepared an interim report suggesting that LSD should be reclassified as a lower classified substance. The report was buried and the EACD’s independence was severely limited. It’s why you got the strange advice from the EACD to ban BZP, because that’s the conclusion that Jim Anderton wanted. Evidence has no role to play in politics.

    Comment by Will de Cleene — November 3, 2010 @ 7:57 am

  6. The graph suggests “family adversities” caused by alcohol are more harmful than the “drug-related mortality” of tobacco. I’d really like to know how they made such a judgement.

    Comment by bradluen — November 3, 2010 @ 8:03 am

  7. Also: looking at mortality (top blue and red bars, drug-specific + drug-related), heroin is about twice as harmful as alcohol or tobacco.

    How does this make sense? If it’s absolute numbers, well, heroin doesn’t kill as many people as alcohol or tobacco. If it’s per person, then there’s no way that the mortality rate of heroin is only double that of alcohol, unless you’re counting every heart attack by someone who has a couple of glasses of merlot per week.

    Comment by bradluen — November 3, 2010 @ 8:11 am

  8. All drugs in Portugal are legal

    Don’t you mean ‘drug use is not a criminal offense in Portugal’?

    Comment by StephenR — November 3, 2010 @ 8:21 am

  9. Good graph, good points.
    Incidentally, why is Anabolic Steroids further to the right than Khat at 10 and 9 respectively?

    Comment by deusexmachina — November 3, 2010 @ 8:22 am

  10. Point to make about these categories:

    They clearly all have fixed qualities to them but are not necessarily weighted against each other properly to make them the right balance so depending how important you think each factor is it would change the result here.

    A drug with lots of little bad affects in several areas in not that bad compared to one which has 1 massive effect in a single area. Take the mental impairment of LSD and Shrooms. If you become completely mentally impaired it does not matter that other medical effects may take place.

    In terms of your comments on it:

    This graph takes into account harm caused by these drugs being illegal which will compose the majority of categories like crime for Marijuana, Heroin etc…The fact it is legal in fact makes its rating worse.

    In terms of drugs rapidly overtaking alcohol if legalised only the social harms not the harms to users would increase on these calculations if usage increased. The experience of countries that have decriminalised/legalised is that use does not increase significantly, in Portugal for more serious drugs use decreased because people shifted to the less harmful now legal drugs. This may not be replicated in other countries but thus far there is no evidence it will increase use. It is also worth pointing out the average age of users has increased when drugs are legalised thus far.

    @Bradluen my understanding is that the harm to the user is per person and the societal harm is overall, other graphs have merely these two factors weighted against each other. Alcohol doesn’t just cause heart attacks there are also significant rates of organ failure and cancer (it is in the highest category of carcinogens) that are attributable to it, its mortality rate is quite easily higher than Heroin.

    Comment by Rob — November 3, 2010 @ 8:31 am

  11. i don’t see ether on that list?
    no-one binging any more?

    Comment by amc32 — November 3, 2010 @ 8:34 am

  12. For those of you wondering how they derived their “judgements”, the paper is freely available on the Lancet website.

    http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2807%2960464-4/fulltext#article_upsell

    Comment by Ewan — November 3, 2010 @ 8:36 am

  13. I was interested enough to do some quick Googling.

    The lowest estimate for heroin annual mortality rate I found by Googling was 1%. Other studies were around 3%.

    The highest estimate I found for annual US alcohol-related deaths was 100,000*. About half of adults are “regular” drinkers. Let’s lowball that estimate to get 50,000,000. That gives an upper bound for the annual death rate from alcohol-related causes of 0.2%.

    Unless the heroin death rate estimates are way off, no way is the mortality rate per user for alcohol higher, or half as high, than for heroin.

    *I am assuming the study that says 1 in 10 European deaths are due to alcohol is nonsense until somebody shows me otherwise.

    Comment by bradluen — November 3, 2010 @ 8:44 am

  14. Is this the same Lancet which turned 65,000 deaths in Iraq into 650,000?

    Comment by Adolf Fiinkensein — November 3, 2010 @ 8:47 am

  15. Is amyl nitrate considered a drug?

    Comment by Nick K — November 3, 2010 @ 8:48 am

  16. “Is this the same Lancet which turned 65,000 deaths in Iraq into 650,000?”

    No that was George Bush. You should know that given he’s one of your heroes.

    Comment by Guy Smiley — November 3, 2010 @ 8:55 am

  17. “The lowest estimate for heroin annual mortality rate I found by Googling was 1%. Other studies were around 3%.”

    This chart would indicate that comparatively, mortality related to heroin use is proportionally higher than smoking; I find that very surprising, unless way more people are dying of Hep and AIDS within the junkie community than I suspected.

    As a side note;
    i) I wonder where gambling might rate on this scale?
    ii) more crime related to cannabis than cocaine?

    Comment by Gregor W — November 3, 2010 @ 9:47 am

  18. Butane? That’s the stuff in camping gas cannisters right? How the hell do you use butane as a drug?

    Comment by Conrad — November 3, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  19. “Butane? That’s the stuff in camping gas cannisters right? How the hell do you use butane as a drug?”

    http://bit.ly/aknJDA

    Comment by Ewan — November 3, 2010 @ 9:57 am

  20. Just sniff it Conrad.

    I see they missed twink thinner off the list, perhaps I’ll just go back to that.

    Comment by Mr E — November 3, 2010 @ 9:58 am

  21. “The obvious conclusion here is that having politicians regulate the sale and prohibition of drugs has been an expensive, catastrophic failure. They’re corrupt and ignorant and have no idea what they’re doing. We need an independent body of trained professionals making these decisions.”

    Something that’s become clear to me is that prohibitionists don’t care about evidence – they consider drug use to be morally wrong, and that’s all there is to it. Decades of propaganda have painted drug users as lazy, stupid, unpredictable, amoral degenerates, and that’s still largely the way Johnny and Jane Lunchpail see it.

    Comment by Purple-Shirted Eye Stabber — November 3, 2010 @ 10:09 am

  22. Controlling for availability is probably the most important, but also most difficult, piece missing in this debate. The moral prohibitionists just use that as a shield otherwise.

    Comment by garethw — November 3, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  23. I presume Chet Baker counts as a heroin- (or cocaine-) related death, but what about Cobain?

    Comment by bradluen — November 3, 2010 @ 10:36 am

  24. Reason linked to the 2007 paper that cost Nutt his job, the new one that the graph is from is here – http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2961462-6/fulltext

    Comment by noone — November 3, 2010 @ 10:51 am

  25. Re Butane,

    Huh, you learn something everyday I guess…

    Comment by Conrad — November 3, 2010 @ 11:53 am

  26. Dan, I don’t think your comments are compatible, unless I misunderstand them:
    “alcohol is legal, and thus cheap and widely available. So if you make heroin and crack cocaine legal then you could quickly see them overtake alcohol”
    So you are saying a rise in use would seriously increase harm.

    But then you say:
    “But look at LSD and ecstasy down there at the far right. Those are Class A drugs, the manufacture, importation or sale of which is punishable with life imprisonment – although the harm they cause is ~1/10th that of alcohol.”

    Your first comment implies that alcohol has a high rating (partially) due to easy availability. Your second comment seems to fail to recognise the opposite: that perhaps LSD & Ecstasy rate lower (partially) due to low availability?

    Overall, though, I agree that politicians should fuck off. That’s what we’re talking about, right?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — November 3, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

  27. Methamphetamine – zero economic cost? I’d like to see that explained.

    I think the availability and familiarity arguments do bias against alcohol. The proportion of people using alcohol and experiencing no negative effects (or creating externalities) is way higher than say meth. Simply because one is legal and widely available and the other is not. Unless they control for that aspect of the study it is somewhat misleading, though I dont dispute our drug classification laws are anachronistic and reflective of a 1960s and 70s morality view.

    And some of those categories deserve less than a weight of one relative to the others. International damage? Who cares – I’m more worried about me or my family having a social or financial cost.

    Comment by nadis — November 3, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  28. I draw exactly the opposite conclusion from the same data – mainly because your first ‘caveat’ is much more than a caveat. It should be the obvious conclusion.

    Alcohol is not the most damaging because it is intrinsically more damaging. It is the most damaging because it is legal. Therefore making drugs legal massively increases the harm they cause.

    When use increases, harm increases. LSD is not at the bottom because it is safest, but because hardly anyone uses it.

    Heroin is not widely used by hugely damaging.

    Comment by Z — November 3, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  29. I’m in the middle of my “spring rites” 17 day mushroom bender. I preserve my mushrooms in honey specifically for this moment. As I write, the sun has formed into the face of mathew hooton and is screaming “rootn tootn hootn!!”, “rootn tootn hootn!!”. Blue tears run from his eyes.

    impairment shamirment! Ive been set free – must away, kids are home from school….

    Comment by k.jones — November 3, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

  30. When use increases, harm increases. LSD is not at the bottom because it is safest, but because hardly anyone uses it.

    Heroin is not widely used by hugely damaging.

    If you read the linked paper you see that most of the measures are independent of degree of use.

    Comment by danylmc — November 3, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

  31. There’s this awful drug sodium cloride that all the kids are using. Sustained use causes heart attacks and strokes. A new paper suggests regulation of industry would decrease these by 18%.

    Seriously, I wonder where salt would figure on this graph. 18% more strokes and heart attacks (than a regulated baseline) is a lot of excess mortality.

    Comment by George D — November 3, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

  32. Is this the same Lancet which turned 65,000 deaths in Iraq into 650,000?

    The Lancet is a journal, dumbass. Are you planning a crusade against written communication because it’s the medium by which Mein Kampf was transmitted? I can see it now: “These scientists are telling us this information in the English language; is this the same English language that was employed by the Ku Klux Klan to incite lynchings of black men?”

    And the fact that you don’t understand maths, or that IBC is a massive underestimate (that they recently said that the Iraq War Logs showed information about 15,000 deaths that were previously unknown is telling) doesn’t mean that the 2006 paper is inaccurate.

    Comment by derp de derp — November 3, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

  33. Who funded this “research”?

    Follow the money and opine why the “conclusion” was arrived at.

    One newspaper had the finding discovered by scientists.

    I do not believe any scientists were involved in this “study”.

    Honest scientists tend to avoid lies.
    Honest scientists tend to avoid damn lies.
    Honest scientists very definitely avoid statistics.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — November 3, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

  34. @peterlepaysan this guy found similar results working for UK government who would have very clearly not wanted to find that. I don’t think it was caused my money. The lead researcher is quite well known but wouldn’t really call this study science it is not an experiment.

    Comment by Rob — November 4, 2010 @ 12:13 am

  35. How the hell do you use butane as a drug?

    You take a deep breath and follow it up with a big suck of butane. Then put a lighter to your nose.

    Blows your head off, apparently.

    Comment by Rich — November 4, 2010 @ 5:20 am


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