When the United States intensified its War on Drugs in the mid-1980s, the media, government policy, police forces and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign all painted the perils of drug use. Crack/cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and other illegal drugs were all blamed for increased murder rates, addiction, overdoses and a myriad of other problems plaguing the country’s urban areas.
Growing up African American in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods, Carl Hart, Ph.D. never questioned that crack may be the cause of his family’s and neighborhood’s problems with violence and abuse. But as he got older, he decided to further explore the truth behind illegal drugs—what long-term effects did they have? Were they as addictive as he had heard?
His new book High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers; $26.99/ $34.99 Can.; Hardcover; ISBN 13: 9780062015884), is based on 22 years of research as a groundbreaking neuropsychopharmacologist about the study and science of drug addiction, but it is also a provocative and eye-opening memoir where he recalls his journey of self-discovery, how he avoided a life of crime and drugs and avoided becoming one of the crack addicts he now studies.
Carefully culling through past studies and his own research, Hart goes beyond the hype as he examines the relationship between drugs and pleasure, choice, and motivation, both in the brain and in society. His findings shed new light on common ideas about race, poverty, and drugs and explain why current policies are failing.
Hart argues that the stories we have all grown up hearing about the dangers of drugs and their responsibility for ruining the lives of many users are just plain wrong.
Weaving together both real-life examples from his personal history, as well as scientific knowledge of the human mind, brain and behavior, Hart shows that our government policies towards drugs, starting with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 are reactive and punitive, but based little on fact.
“Much of what we are doing in terms of drug education, treatment, and public policy is inconsistent with scientific data,” Hart writes. “In order to come to terms with what I have seen in the lab and read in the scientific literature, there is nothing else to do but speak out.”
Research has repeatedly shown that only 10 to 15 percent of illegal drug users are truly addicted to their substance of choice, but we readily blame illicit drugs for social problems like crime and domestic violence – issues that as Hart’s own past shows exist beyond any substance abuse.
Sure to be controversial and thought-provoking, High Price is a call for a change in how we think about and define illegal drugs and the people that use them. It is also a fascinating memoir of one man’s achievement of success against all odds. With High Price, Hart takes the important first step towards re-educating the American public about drugs, separating the real potential dangers from salacious fable.
High Price is scheduled for publication on June 11.
About the Author
Dr. Carl Hart, Ph.D., 46, 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.
Hart is 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. After high school, the Miami, Florida native signed up for the US Air Force.
He took university classes on the bases where he was stationed, and then went on to get his undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Maryland (1991). He completed his graduate training in experimental psychology and neuroscience at the University of Wyoming, where he received a M.S. (1994) and a Ph.D. (1996).
Dr. Hart completed postdoctoral research training at the University of California at San Francisco, Yale University, and Columbia University.