The New Zealand drug harms ranking study: A multi-criteria decision analysis

J Psychopharmacol. 2023 Sep;37(9):891-903. doi: 10.1177/02698811231182012. Epub 2023 Jun 23.


Aims: The harms arising from psychoactive drug use are complex, and harm reduction strategies should be informed by a detailed understanding of the extent and nature of that harm. Drug harm is also context specific, and so any comprehensive assessment of drug harm should be relevant to the characteristics of the population in question. This study aimed to evaluate and rank drug harms within Aotearoa New Zealand using a multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) framework, and to separately consider harm within the total population, and among youth.

Methods: Two facilitated workshops involved the separate ranking of harm for the total population, and then for youth aged 12-17, by two expert panels. In the total population workshop, 23 drugs were scored against 17 harm criteria, and those criteria were then evaluated using a swing weighting process. Scoring and weighting were subsequently updated during the youth-specific workshop. All results were recorded and analysed using specialised MCDA software.

Results: When considering overall harm, the MCDA modelling results indicated that alcohol, methamphetamine and synthetic cannabinoids were the most harmful to both the overall population and the youth, followed by tobacco in the total population. Alcohol remained the most harmful drug for the total population when separately considering harm to those who use it, and harm to others.

Conclusions: The results provide detailed and context-specific insight into the harm associated with psychoactive drugs use within Aotearoa New Zealand. The findings also demonstrate the value of separately considering harm for different countries, and for different population subgroups.

Keywords: Aotearoa; drug harm; drug policy; psychoactive drugs; youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Ethanol*
  • Humans
  • Methamphetamine*
  • New Zealand


  • Ethanol
  • Methamphetamine