The case against the war on drugs

Loren RossonChasing the Scream is an indictment of the drug war, a plea for legalizing all drugs, and a sober reassessment of what causes drug addiction.

And a page-turner besides. I read it in two days.

Whether or not it changes how you feel about drug policies in America, it will make you think hard about them.

Chasing the Scream

“Chasing the Scream” by Johann Hari is available at the library in hardcover.

For years, opponents of the drug war have been making a case similar to Hari’s: That we ruin the lives of nonviolent drug users (especially nonwhites in poverty) by imprisoning them, and make room for them in prison by paroling dangerous offenders like murderers and rapists. That we make crime worse by empowering gangs and drug monopolies. That the solution to addiction isn’t incarceration but education and rehabilitative support networks.

Hari appeals to the example of Portugal, whose population of addicts went down by half after ending its own drug war through legalization. Most fascinating are his findings about what causes addiction.

One theory says it is caused by moral failure (hedonism and partying too hard), while another insists the brain is hijacked by drug chemicals.

But research shows that traditional theories are flawed. Hari points to evidence that suggests it’s neither our morality nor our brain, but our “cage”–a life full of isolation, stress, and/or misery–that makes drugs attractive to addicts. Which is why, for instance, people who take diamorphine (heroin) for long periods of time for medical reasons, like pain relief after a hip replacement, usually don’t become addicts. And it’s why addicts isolated from society in prisons or rehab facilities usually continue using.

Read the critical praise for Hari’s book at amazon, and also watch Bill Maher’s interview with Hari below.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

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