Drug policy makers continuously face a changing pattern of drug use, i.e. new drugs appear on the market, the popularity of certain drugs changes or drugs are used in another way or another combination. For legislative purposes, drugs have mostly been classified according to their addictive potency. Such classifications, however, lack a scientific basis. The present study describes the results of a risk assessment study where 19 recreational drugs (17 illicit drugs plus alcohol and tobacco) used in the Netherlands have been ranked by a Dutch expert panel according to their harm based on the scientific state of the art. The study applies a similar approach as recently applied by Nutt et al. [Lancet 2007;369:1047–1053], so that the results of both studies could be compared. The harm indicators scored are acute and chronic toxicity, addictive potency and social harm. The aim of this study is to evaluate whether the legal classification of drugs in the Netherlands corresponds with the ranking of the drugs according to their science-based ranking of harm. Based on the results, recommendations are formulated about the legal classification of recreational drugs at national and international level which serves a rational approach for drug control.
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