A hard-hitting attack on current drug policy by Hart (Psychology and Psychiatry/Columbia Univ.), a neuroscientist who grew up on the streets of one of Miami's toughest neighborhoods.
“[W]e have been bamboozled,” he writes, “to believe that cocaine, heroine, methamphetamine or some other drug du jour is so dangerous that any possession or use of it should not be tolerated and deserves to be severely punished.” Hart debunks claims that the use of crack cocaine is more dangerous than other forms of the drug and therefore should be punished more severely—a distinction that penalizes ghetto users who are the most typical crack users. Offering experimental data and his own personal experiences, he takes issue with the idea that addiction is strictly biological rather than a complex combination of cultural, social and psychological facts. Initially accepting prevailing notions about addiction, his own research over two decades convinced him that only 15 percent of frequent drug users are addicted. Reflecting on his experiences growing up in the ghetto, Hart realized that social environment was as important as the availability of street drugs. His own remarkable path to success included a large component of good luck. Since he hoped to become a professional athlete, he didn't drop out of high school, as did many of his friends, and he moderated his use of alcohol and drugs. When he failed to win an athletic scholarship, he joined the military. Although he was involved in criminal street activity, Hart was fortunate in avoiding arrest and a criminal record that would have disqualified him from the military and the track to higher education. In his view, the focus on illegal drug trafficking “obfuscates the real problems faced by marginalized people,” and neuroscientific research focuses too much on the action of neurotransmitters to explain addiction.
An eye-opening, absorbing, complex story of scientific achievement in the face of overwhelming odds.