Professor David Nutt from the University of Bristol, Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, and colleagues, identified three main factors that together determine the harm associated with any drug of potential abuse: 1.
Within each of these categories, they recognized three components, leading to a comprehensive nine-category matrix of harm. Expert panels gave scores, from zero to three, for each category of harm for 20 different drugs.
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All the scores for each drug were combined to produce an overall estimate of its harm. In order to provide familiar benchmarks, for comparison with illicit drugs, five legal drugs of potential misuse alcohol, khat, solvents, alkyl nitrites, and tobacco and one that has since been classified ketamine were included in the assessment. The process proved simple, and yielded roughly similar scores for drug harm when used by two separate groups of experts.
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Professor David Nutt, lead author on the paper, said: "Drug misuse and abuse are major health problems. Our methodology offers a systematic framework and process that could be used by national and international regulatory bodies to assess the harm of current and future drugs of abuse.
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Professor Colin Blakemore added: "Drug policy is primarily aimed at reducing the harm to individual users, their families and society. But at present there is no rational, evidence-based method for assessing the harm of drugs.
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