Book Review: High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society
by Carl Hart
Book Reviewed by Kam Williams
“As a youth, Carl Hart didn’t realize the value of school; he studied just enough to stay on the basketball team. At the same time, he was immersed in street life. Today, he is a cutting-edge neuroscientist—Columbia University’s first tenured African-American professor in the sciences—whose landmark, controversial research is redefining our understanding of addiction.
In this provocative and eye-opening memoir, he recalls his journey of self-discovery and weaves his past and present. Hart goes beyond the hype of the antidrug movement as he examines the relationship among drugs, 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.”
—Excerpted from book jacket
Judging by Dr. Carl Hart’s background, it’s a little surprising he ever made it out of the ‘hood, let alone became one of the nation’s leading neuroscientists. After all, he grew up in a rough area of Miami, Florida where, as a teenager, he roamed the streets as a gun-toting, drug dealer.
Only after entering the military did he come to appreciate the value of an education, and eventually earn his BS, MS and PhD degrees. Today, he teaches at Columbia University where his work in pharmacology has uncovered some rather startling statistics, such as “85% of drug users aren’t addicted,” “the War on Drugs has “had no effect on daily use of marijuana, heroin or any type of cocaine,” and “around half of all people with drug addictions are employed full-time and many never commit crimes…”
The upshot of over 20 years of research in the field of neuro- psychopharmacology has led to the controversial conclusion that drug policy rather than drugs is the main problem. And he discusses the data underpinning his reasoning in High Price, an incendiary opus. The eye-opening book is as much a revealing memoir as a thought-provoking clarion call for an overhaul of the drug laws, given the disproportionate toll they take on minorities and the poor.
Although the author stops short of advocating illegal drug use, he does point out that the “Just say no!” campaign has never been effective. Furthermore, his concern is that educators lose the respect of students when they rely on such a simplistic approach to the problem.
Besides the groundbreaking discussion of narcotics, Dr. Hart devotes considerable ink to personal anecdotes, like the one about discovering while teaching at Columbia that he had fathered a son at the age of 15. another related the humiliation he suffered when profiled and detained as a possible perpetrator by police despite the laminated photo ID hanging around his neck proving he belonged on campus.
A seminal contribution to the conversation about the intersection of the legal system and drug addiction from a bodacious brother with both street credibility and academic credentials.