Junk science and cocaine scares

Today in his weekly column on junk science, Ben "Bad Science" Goldacre challenges the War on Drugs and Britain's latest obsession with fighting cocaine:

In the case of cocaine, there is an even more striking precedent for evidence being ignored: during the early 1990s the World Health Organisation conducted what is probably the largest ever study of global cocaine use. In March 1995 they released a briefing kit which summarised their conclusions, with some tantalising bullet points.

"Health problems from the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater than health problems from cocaine use," they said. "Few experts describe cocaine as invariably harmful to health. Cocaine-related problems are widely perceived to be more common and more severe for intensive, high-dosage users and very rare and much less severe for occasional, low-dosage users."

The full report - which has never been published - went on to challenge several of the key principles driving prohibition, and was extremely critical of most US policies. It suggested that supply reduction and law enforcement strategies have failed, and that alternative strategies such as decriminalisation might be explored, flagging up such programmes in Australia, Bolivia, Canada and Colombia....This report was never published, because just two months after the press briefing was released, at the 48th World Health Assembly, the US representative to WHO threatened to withdraw US funding for all their research projects and interventions unless the organisation "dissociated itself from the conclusions of the study" and cancelled the publication. According to WHO, even today, this document does not exist, (although you can read a leaked copy in full on the website of the drugs policy think tank Transform at www.tdpf.org.uk/WHOleaked.pdf ).

This is my column. This is my column on drugs. Any questions?