We’ve all heard the stories about how the crack epidemic destroyed the Black community, leaving broken homes and drug-addicted babies in its wake. But is it true? Did the influx of crack cocaine and other drugs really ravage our communities, or has everything we’ve been taught to believe about drugs and addiction been completely wrong?
Inspired by the media panic over the so-called crack epidemic, Dr. Carl Hart made investigating the behavioral and neuropharmacological effects of drugs on our population his life’s work. And what he’s found is startling.
Despite the hype surrounding the additive nature of drugs, Dr. Hart, a neuroscientist, found that “eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted, and the small number who do become addicted are nothing like the popular caricatures.”
To research whether drugs were as addictive as most people thought, Dr. Hart ran an unconventional study, placing an ad in the newspaper and offering participants a chance to make up to $950 while smoking crack in his lab at Columbia University.
The New York Times gives more details about Dr. Hart’s study:
At the start of each day, as researchers watched behind a one-way mirror, a nurse would place a certain amount of crack in a pipe — the dose varied daily — and light it. While smoking, the participant was blindfolded so he couldn’t see the size of that day’s dose.
Then, after that sample of crack to start the day, each participant would be offered more opportunities during the day to smoke the same dose of crack. But each time the offer was made, the participants could also opt for a different reward that they could collect when they eventually left the hospital. Sometimes the reward was $5 in cash, and sometimes it was a $5 voucher for merchandise at a store.
When the dose of crack was fairly high, the subject would typically choose to keep smoking crack during the day. But when the dose was smaller, he was more likely to pass it up for the $5 in cash or voucher.
“They didn’t fit the caricature of the drug addict who can’t stop once he gets a taste,” Dr. Hart said. “When they were given an alternative to crack, they made rational economic decisions.”
When methamphetamine replaced crack as the great drug scourge in the United States, Dr. Hart brought meth addicts into his laboratory for similar experiments — and the results showed similarly rational decisions. He also found that when he raised the alternative reward to $20, every single addict, of meth and crack alike, chose the cash. They knew they wouldn’t receive it until the experiment ended weeks later, but they were still willing to pass up an immediate high.
The results ran counter to everything he thought about the irrational choices of drug addicts and became the basis for his new book High Price, which takes a hard-hitting look at our nation’s drug policies and how our rush to win the War on Drugs has let to catastrophic results, particularly for Black folks.
Recently Dr. Hart sat down for an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes to dispel some of the widely held myths about drugs and drug users. Their interview is absolutely compelling and will challenge everything you’ve been taught, and probably thought, about drugs.
Take a look.