It is, of course, Professor Nutt's research which states categorically that alcohol is the most harmful drug known to man.
Considering the worldwide scrutiny (or lack of it) afforded to the revelations, it's worth pointing out the period of time taken for this research. After all, it must take months to forensically assess harms to society of 20 different drugs, yes?
Well, it would appear not, since Prof Nutt and his team just gave it one day in July.
Method: Members of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD), including two invited specialists, met in a 1-day interactive workshop to score 20 drugs on 16 criteria: nine related to the harms that a drug produces in the individual and seven to the harms to others.But then, how long does it really take to have a chat with one's colleagues on something with which you all agree?
The ISCD, you may remember, is the organisation set up by Nutt - and colleagues who resigned in sympathy - following his sacking for saying exactly the same thing this time last year. In fact, all this cosy little pow-wow did was reiterate Nutt's 2007 Lancet study, and re-issue the same message as when he was paid by the government in 2009, albeit with a few tweaks in the weighting of each harm to satisfy critics of his original method (one of which, you'll be interested to know, was ASH's Deborah Arnott. Didn't like tobacco being placed behind cocaine, no doubt).
Yep, that's all it was. An opinion voiced by Nutt and others who believe currently illegal drugs to be wrongly demonised in relation to alcohol. The full eight page report did little more than produce some pretty graphs of what they had discussed, along with an explanation of how they had treated the 'scores' they had attributed, amongst themselves, to each of the 20 substances. They particularly talked about the new way of weighting each on its importance.
The specific measure being ...
“How big is the difference in harm and how much do you care about that difference?”Hmm. Just a guess here, but for those who think currently illegal drugs aren't comparatively dangerous to alcohol, the level of concern for the damage accruing to such substances would be pretty low, doncha think?
Now, I know you're thinking that this is no way to approach such an important subject. After all, I could sit around a table with a few friends and we could all agree that Jamie Oliver is more dangerous than typhoid, but Nutt and his friends have a perfect explanation for their methodology.
[...] data are not available for many of the criteria, so the expert group approach is the best we can provide.In other words, there is no evidence to back all this up, so we're ... err ... creating it.
The weighting process is necessarily based on judgment, so it is best done by a group of experts working to consensus.
What's more, the ISCD was boosted by a couple of friends of theirs from Holland who dragged themselves away from a coffee shop long enough to endorse Nutt's findings.
In an editorial accompanying the Nutt team's report, Jan van Amsterdam of the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and Wim van den Brink of the Amsterdam Institute for Addiction research note that the legal penalties prescribed by various nations’ drug policies are out of synch with the actual harms caused by different drugs.Which is only fair considering v Amsterdam and vd Brink were referenced in the study.
Our findings lend support to the conclusions of the earlier nine-criteria analysis undertaken by UK experts1 and the output of the Dutch addiction medicine expert group8.The 8 refers to the Dutchies, the 1 refers to 'experts' who wrote a study in 2007 ... Nutt's one, to be precise. Yep, these findings, incredibly enough, 'lend support' to what Nutt has said previously.
I know! Stunning, isn't it?
Fortunately, Nutt is diligent enough to qualify his conclusions with a very important observation.
Limitations of this approach include the fact that we scored only harms. All drugs have some benefits to the user, at least initially, otherwise they would not be used, but this effect might attenuate over time with tolerance and withdrawal. Some drugs such as alcohol and tobacco have commercial benefits to society in terms of providing work and tax, which to some extent off set the harms and, although less easy to measure, is also true of production and dealing in illegal drugs.Indeed, harm is usually the only side of the equation addressed by those involved in the public health business, so power to Nutt's elbow for even recognising the existence of benefits.
However, it didn't stop him spouting soundbites this morning of how "the public subsidise alcohol usage to the tune of £1,000 per taxpayer" (not verbatim) which is, of course, execrable nonsense, as Tim Worstall has pointed out before.
And how Nutt can talk about cost in such detail is a mystery since his report doesn't mention figures at all, merely theory. There's not a pound sign in the entire piece. It's a dog's breakfast, it really is. Yet it has flown around the world.
Despite the deficiencies of all this, however, it's not Nutt who fills me with exasperated rage tonight. I tend to agree with him, in fact. Yes, currently illegal drugs are being treated by legislators in a caricature fashion. Their harm is hugely exaggerated and there should be a much more sensible approach.
But what have we seen from the worldwide MSM in response? The blind, lazy shrieking that alcohol is EVEN more dangerous than the drugs the MSM currently raise to laughably demonised levels.
If any journalist, anywhere, has offered a calm considered view - and I'm pretty certain they didn't have to search for the full text like I did - instead of jerking their knee for a cheap headline, I haven't seen it.
Meanwhile, one usual suspect thinks Christmas has come early with a report he didn't even have to throw cash at.
[Don Shenker, the chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said:] "[The] government should now urgently ensure alcohol is made less affordable and invest in prevention and treatment services to deal with the rise in alcohol dependency that has occurred."Thereby missing the point entirely.
One day, some sanity may well return to the lifestyle vs public health debate. Today certainly isn't that day.