Though President Nixon launched “The War on Drugs” in 1971, the most aggressive antidrug policies, including harsh mandatory prison sentences for possession of even small amounts of narcotics, were enacted during the Reagan administration. Thirty years later, 20 million Americans (roughly 1 in 15) use illegal drugs regularly. We seem to be losing the war. Some, including Columbia University neuroscientist Carl Hart, think we were fighting the wrong war to begin with.
In “High Price,” Hart argues that drugs are less a cause than a symptom of a broken society. He uses his own life story to illustrate the point that addiction, poverty, and crime are not inevitable consequences of drugs. Rather, he claims, drugs are an attractive diversion for people living in despair. It’s the causes of despair, Hart believes, not the drugs, on which we should be making war.