I appreciate the insights of Dr. Carl Hart, professor at Columbia University writing about drug use and moral panic. Quoted here in an interview with Salon.
CH: I think crack cocaine is the easiest example In the 1980s, as I was coming of age in my teens and my early 20s, people—black people, white folks, a number of people in the country—said crack was so awful it was causing women to give up their babies and neglect their children such that grandmothers had to raise another generation of children.
Now, if you look at the history in poor communities—my community, my family—long before crack ever hit the scene, that sort of thing happened in my house. We were raised by my grandmother. My mother went away because she and my father split up. She went away in search of better jobs and left the state, but it wasn’t just her. This sort of thing, this pathology that is attributed to drugs, happened to immigrant communities like the Eastern European Jews when they came to the Lower East SIde, but people simply blamed crack in the 1980s and the 1990s.
Another example is that, since the crack era, multiple studies have found that the effects of crack cocaine use during pregnancy do not create an epidemic of doomed black “crack babies.” Instead, crack-exposed children are growing up to lead normal lives, and studies have repeatedly found that the diferences between them and babies who were not exposed cannot be isolated from the health effects of growing up poor, without a stable, safe environment or access to healthcare.
When asked about what to do about these problems, Dr. Hart explains:
CH: That is complex, but quite simple to start. The first thing is we decriminalize all drugs. More than 80% of people arrested for drugs are arrested for simple possession. Wen you decriminalize, now you have that huge number of people—we’re talking 1.5 million people arrested every year—that no longer have that blemish on their record. That increases the likelihood that they can get jobs, participate in the mainstream.
Number two is dramatically increase realistic education about drugs—none of this “this is your brain on drugs” stuff, but real education, which looks like making sure people understand effects of drugs they’re using, particularly potentially medical affects. Don’t use heroin with another sedative because it increases the likelihood of respiratory depression. Realistic education, telling people what to do, how to prevent negative effects associated with drugs. We do it with alcohol—you shouldn’t binge drink, don’t drink on an empty stomach—and could do it with other drugs.
Hart has a book: High Price, check it out. Thanks to Salon.