UK Government response to ranking harmful drugs

UK Government response to ranking harmful drugs

Posted On: December 20, 2010
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A couple of years ago, the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) – the government’s own body of scientific advisors came out with a ranking of the most harmful drugs.  They used 9 different aspects of harm for evaluating each drug.

  • Physical harm
    • Acute
    • Chronic
    • Parenteral (i.e. intravenous harm)
  • Dependence
    • Intensity of Pleasure
    • Psychological dependence
    • Physical dependence
  • Social harms
    • Intoxication
    • Other social harms
    • Healthcare costs

Using these criteria – and allotting points to various drugs (up to a total of 100), the ACMD came up with the following ranking for drugs in order of harm.  Each is listed with its legal classification.

1. Heroin (Class A)

2. Cocaine (Class A)

3. Barbiturates (Class B)

4. Street methadone (Class A)

5. Alcohol (Not controlled)

6. Ketamine (Class C)

7. Benzodiazepine (Class B)

8. Amphetamine (Class B)

9. Tobacco (No class)

10. Bupranorphine (Class C)

11. Cannabis (Class B)

12. Solvents (Not controlled)

13. 4-MTA (Class A)

14. LSD (Class A)

15. Methylphenidate (Class B)

16. Anabolic steroids (Class C)

17. GHB (Class C)

18. Ecstasy (Class A)

19. Alkylnitrates (Not controlled)

20. Khat (Not controlled)

The Labour government at the time made the following observations about the study:

In the course of this case study, we have looked in detail at the role played by, and workings of, the Government’s scientific advisory committee on drug classification and policy… Although the Council has produced useful reports explaining the rationale behind its recommendations on drug classification decisions, we found a lack of transparency in other areas of its work and a disconcerting degree of confusion over its remit. …We have also highlighted the need for the ACMD to play a far more a proactive role in supporting the work of the Department of Health and Department for Education and Skills: the Government’s approach to drug education and treatment must be informed by scientific advice and stronger cross-departmental coordination will be vital if the Public Service Agreement targets on drugs policy are to be met.

In November 2010, the UK’s new Coalition government announced  that

“Ministers will not be required to seek the advice of scientists when making drug classification policy in future, under new government proposals.”

The police reform and social responsibility bill, published [at the end of November], contains an amendment to the constitution of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) that would remove the requirement on the home secretary to appoint at least six scientists to the committee.

I wonder if there’s a connection between the ACMD study results and the decisions the new UK government is taking regarding formulation of drug policy?  It would almost seem as if there might be something inconvenient about having science at the heart of legislation ?  Looking at the list ranking most harmful drugs – I wonder what that could be?


To read more about the government’s proposed change in legislation on drugs go here

To read more about the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs go here

To read about the UK government’s new strategy on drugs go here