Is drug classification accurate?

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 11-17-10

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 11-17-10.

Question of the Week: Is drug classification accurate?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has named this week, November 8th through November 14th, National Drug Facts Week.

NIDA “encourage(s) teens to get factual answers from scientific experts about drugs and drug abuse.”

NIDA’s publication for this event entitled, “Drugs: Shatter the Myths,” contains “Facts” for marijuana, tobacco, methamphetamine, prescription drugs, and “huffing.” A search of it for “alcohol” finds no fact for this substance that is used monthly by 10 million American teens aged 12-20. This publication also omitted facts concerning heroin, cocaine, and crack.

Last week, the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, published an article entitled, “Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis.” A panel of experts used this analysis technique to rate 20 different drugs on 16 total criteria of harm to the individual and harm to others.

This study found alcohol to be the most harmful drug. Its harm to others was rated as almost twice that for heroin and crack cocaine that placed second and third in this category. Heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine were scored as most harmful to the individual. Still, alcohol’s overall harm score was 50% higher than that for runners up heroin and cocaine, dwarfing the scores of the seventeen other drugs evaluated.

It appears that the three drugs deemed to be most harmful in one of the most prestigious scientific journals — alcohol, crack cocaine, and heroin — were overlooked in NIDA’s official publication for National Drug Facts Week.

The Lancet article sums up this omission concluding,

“the present drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm.”

These facts and others like them can be found in the Drug Usage and Addictive Properties of Drugs chapters of Drug War Facts at

Questions concerning these or other facts concerning drug policy can be e-mailed to