Alcohol is More Dangerous Than Heroin
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Alcohol is More Dangerous Than Heroin

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Scientists out of the UK have ranked a list of 19 drugs by the level of harm they do—to the user and to society as a whole—in an attempt to advance scientific approaches to drug policy. They examined 16 categories of harm, asking things like (and I’m paraphrasing): Can it kill you? Right away or eventually? Is it addictive? Does it make you mean? Make you stupid? Make you careless? Can it make you dangerous, to yourself and to others? How does it affect the environment, families and crime?

Harm scores were ranked from a minimum of zero to a maximum of 100 and the results might at first be surprising. What they found is that alcohol is vastly more dangerous to society than heroin, crack and meth. On the flip side, heroin, crack and meth were only slightly more harmful to the user than alcohol. Harm scores were ranked from a minimum of one to a maximum of 100. Here’s how everyone did: alcohol got a big old 72, heroin was right underneath that with 55, crack just a smidge below with 54 and meth and cocaine, with 33 and 27 respectively, below that. (Tobacco, cannabis, GHB, benzos, Ecstasy and ‘shrooms were among the other drugs listed.)

Is It Fair to Give Booze the Top Spot?

Of course alcohol is dangerous, causes people to commit crimes endangering themselves and others and affects a diverse cross section of people. But one of the most glaring flaws in this research is that it doesn’t fully account for a drug’s legality or accessibility. Surely if the other front-runners were legal, easy to get and socially acceptable, they would score much higher on the scale, right? Still, I don’t think scoring crack has the same kind of conviviality as going somewhere in Silverlake for craft cocktails. Drinking usually at least starts fun. Something like crack cocaine doesn’t really have the same vibe. According to the author Jerry Stahl, “Wherever crack’s on sale, you see these hunched-up skeeks spazzing up and down with their eyes on the sidewalk, scoping for dropped rocks…No sooner do you smoke it than you’re on your hands and knees, scarfing crumbs up off the carpet, the cruddy linoleum, the gutter, wherever.” Starts ugly, ends ugly. See the difference?

We Should All Just Do Acid!

It seems like the common goal in the US for quoting studies like these is to promote the legalization of pot, to point out how much less dangerous it is than alcohol (even the president knows it!) instead of looking at what kinds of problems we run into when we think a drug is no big deal. The more accepted something is, like drinking and smoking weed, the more we think we can just carry on living our lives while using it. We grab some groceries, get our nails done, go for dinner; we drive. I think the amount of driving people try to do on drugs is a huge indicator of how much of a menace to society they can be. Drunk people get behind the wheel. Stoned people think they can drive. Hallucinogens, on the other hand, don’t make you want to drive—being inside a car when they hit is like being trapped underground. By this logic, harm reduction looks like mushrooms and LSD.

Don’t Get Me Started on the GHB

I’ve used 11 out of 19 of these drugs, meth for five years, and the only thing I have ever OD’d on is GHB. I pooped myself. Yep, that happened. Experts agree that these rankings are deeply flawed, mostly because they present harm in a one-dimensional manner. First of all, there are very few purists anymore; most people are combining at least alcohol with something else (for me it was speed and going blind in a K-hole, but I’m an extremist). And some of these drugs are hella dangerous, but no one is really doing them, so they don’t make much of an impact on society. It explains why anabolic steroids only scored a nine when ‘roid rage is so common it’s an accepted part of the cultural lexicon.

Obviously, finding the best method to evaluate the risks of certain drugs is much more complicated than assigning numeric rankings, but here’s the thing: almost 87 percent of adult Americans admit to having used alcohol in their lifetime and 88,000 people die every year from alcohol related causes. Maybe that ranking isn’t so far off.

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About Author

Amanda Fletcher is the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship Manager. A prolific travel and freelance feature writer, her work has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Orange County Register, Coast and Hippocampus magazines, the Ignite magazine blog, FAR & WIDE and more. Originally from Canada, she lives in Los Angeles and is currently finishing her memoir, HALO.