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August 2019

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St Vincent’s director of addiction medicine Yvonne Bonomo.

Alcohol ranked as most harmful drug

Alcohol causes the most overall harm of any drug in Australia, followed by crystal methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyls, according to new research from a St Vincent’s study.

The Australian Drug Harms Ranking Study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, evaluated 22 drugs and ranked them based on the harms they cause individual users – such as illness, injury and death – as well as the harms they cause the community, including relationship breakdown, violence and other crime.

The Australia-first study involved input and decision-making from 24 experts across Australia involved in research, treatment services in addiction medicine, psychiatry, pain medicine, women and children, youth, Aboriginal health, homeless services, emergency services, police and justice.

‘For the first time in Australia, the harms associated with drug use have been considered and ranked and it’s clear that alcohol is our most harmful substance overall,’ said St Vincent’s director of addiction medicine Yvonne Bonomo.

Fentanyls were ranked as the most harmful drug to individuals – followed by heroin, crystal methamphetamine and alcohol.

Alcohol was ranked the most harmful drug to the community – followed by crystal methamphetamine, cigarettes and heroin.

Alcohol was ranked the most harmful drug overall when harm to individuals and community were combined.

Associate Professor Bonomo said alcohol’s combined impact made it a clear frontrunner when it came to ranking overall harms.

‘Close to 6,000 Australians die each year from alcohol-related causes, including cancer, injuries and cardiovascular disease – that’s about one person every 90 minutes.

‘One quarter of weekend presentations to St Vincent’s Melbourne’s ED are related to alcohol.

‘Alcohol increases the likelihood, frequency and severity of violence against women,’ Associate Professor Bonomo said.