Thursday, September 19, 2013

Drug addiction is less about the drugs

You often see public vitriol poured onto drug addicts, and the poor presentation and behaviour of some of them fuels a contempt that prohibitionists then enrol as a reason for further prohibition. However my knowledge of the drug addicts who inhabit the streets of Kings Cross is that they mostly have other serious problems such as illiteracy and/or a dysfunctional, violent and poverty-stricken family history. It seems to me that many are condemned to a miserable life and what solace they can obtain from drugs seems a relatively rational choice - a little comfort in a very hard life.

New research from the USA reinforces my view. Carl Hart, a black, dreadlocked associate professor at Columbia University, has been experimenting with people under controlled conditions by giving them crack and ice, and observing their choices when later offered money as an alternative to further doses. The results question the stereotypical addiction narrative because he found people will choose against drugs when they have an alternative. The NY Times article linked above concludes as follows:
So why do we keep focusing so much on specific drugs? One reason is convenience: It’s much simpler for politicians and journalists to focus on the evils of a drug than to grapple with the underlying social problems. But Dr. Hart also puts some of the blame on scientists.
“Eighty to 90 percent of people are not negatively affected by drugs, but in the scientific literature nearly 100 percent of the reports are negative,” Dr. Hart said. “There’s a skewed focus on pathology. We scientists know that we get more money if we keep telling Congress that we’re solving this terrible problem. We’ve played a less than honorable role in the war on drugs.”