Carl Hart is an associate professor in the departments of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University. He is also a research scientist in the Division of Substance Abuse at the New York State Psychiatric Institute; a member of the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse; and on the board of directors of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence and the Drug Policy Alliance.
From a Q & A with Hart about his book, High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know about Drugs and Society:
After more than 20 years in the field of neuropyschopharmacology, you’ve come to the conclusion that drugs aren’t the main problem – that drug policy is the bigger problem. Please explain why this issue is important to you?--Marshal Zeringue
In the 1980s, a common misperception was that drugs in general, and crack cocaine specifically, were destroying the black community. Many black thinkers, both liberal and conservative, added their voice to the chorus that blamed drugs for everything from premature death to child abandonment and neglect to grandmothers being forced to raise a second generation of children. The Rev. Jesse Jackson said, “Our culture must reject drugs. … We’ve lost more lives to dope than we did to the Ku Klux Klan rope.” Thomas Sowell, the conservative economist, added “drugs are inherently a problem for the individual who takes them.”
Notably, these sentiments were frequently expressed by individuals with no training on drug effects. Their statements were inaccurate, shortsighted and mere hyperbole. For example, although crack was often blamed for child abandonment and for the raising of children by grandparents, this happened in my family as well as others long before crack hit the streets. The primary reason for this was poverty, not drugs. And the view that drugs are a problem for all who use them is inconsistent with the scientific evidence. Eighty-five percent or more of drug users — whether they use alcohol, prescription medications or drugs deemed illegal — do not have a problem....[read on]