Carl Hart’s book High Price is a memoir of a neuroscientist with a background of a kid from a rough neighborhood. The study conveys the scientific component, evident through Hart’s research notes on the crack addicts he is examining and the biographical reflection on the author’s past. This past, in particular, provides the book with necessary context, significantly increasing the efficiency of its socially charged message. Namely, Hart does not shy away from discussing the links between drug abuse, racisms, institutionalized poverty and inequality of opportunities for children from poorer areas of the city.
The book provides a complex and multi-layered perspective on drug addiction, analyzing it as a part of social infrastructure in poorer neighborhoods in general. Hart establishes, several times, the scale and persistence of stigmatization that drug use is faced with under the current approach. He says, “If you’re a member of a despised group, look out! They’ll find a drug and associate you with its use” (Hart, 2014).
This idea of drug usage being something systematically demonized and assigned to already marginalized communities is a perspective I have never thought of before. My personal opinion on drugs has been affected mainly by popular culture, since shame and fear that surround the topic have previously discouraged me from any attempts to research it by myself. The statistics on drug usage for Black communities in poorer neighborhoods and the associated police charges are a regular occurrence for many Americans stood out the most to me. Prior to reading the book, I was vaguely aware of these tendencies, but the scale was a shock. Finally, the questions the book left me with were associated with its medical, and not social aspects.
When using his life path as an example, Carl Hart recalls a period of time when school was of very little interest to him. He did not put any more effort into classes than it was absolutely necessary for staying on basketball team. Eventually, the availability of drugs and the pressure of living in a low-income stigmatized area of the city got under young Hart’s skin, causing him to try cocaine. In my opinion, his personal experience with the substance brings the book to a new level of efficiency. Being familiar first-hand with the social context of rough areas with high levels of drug use is valuable background knowledge, Hart’s past as a user gives him an authentic perspective.
When it comes to the potential lessons Hart’s story can bring for the improvement of outcomes for disadvantaged children, it is crucial to re-establish the importance of context. Hurt himself grew up in a poor and violent family, which also influenced his decision to try drugs. The recognition is the first step to the solution, and thus improving the outcomes for the children in question would require admitting the existence of the structural problem. Educators and social workers need to recognize that the children in question belong to vulnerable groups that are already more exposed to drugs. In a way, their lives are inevitably affected by this phenomenon and the way it has been stigmatized in the current society. Improving the outcomes would involve the establishment of addiction management centers, the introduction of volunteer nurses in these centers a re-education campaign about drugs in general.
The links between racism and the American War on Drugs policies are well-known. It is an intersectional problem that also affects questions of social class, but in this question, these cases are separate. Black people get disproportionally charged for drug possession and drug use, to a point where there is a well-argumented opinion that the state sources for itself free labor. Furthermore, Black population is linked to the use of drugs on TV and in movies, which reinforces the racist negative stereotypes since the same media channels frequently portray drug users as evil or deprived.
Hart’s book reveals that the criminalization of drugs itself already relies on a racist myth surrounding marijuana that originated in the 1900-s. The massive and misleading hysteria in American society began in the 1900s. Around this period of time, the idea of Black men smoking and temporarily going insane was growing in popularity. Supposedly, while under the influence of marijuana, Black men would go on violent rampages and attack vulnerable white women. None of the said propaganda was actually true, but it shaped the societal reaction to the issue and caused a lasting impact on the policy-making in the country.
The perceived and factual links between the Black community and drug use are, however, only a part of the racist problem in drug policing. Predominantly black neighborhoods are more heavily policed and monitored which results in the aforementioned arrest frequency. What is fair and just in theory, in practice, results in an uneven allocation of police attention to the Black community, giving way to the existing bias and, potentially, sabotaging the future statistics on the topic. “The law itself is not racist. But people’s decision about where we’re going to place our efforts, who we’re going to prosecute, who we’re not going to prosecute, is racism.” (Hart, 2014).
The combination of these factors creates a self-fulfilling prophecy and a never-ending circle of inequality, injustice, and racial bias. The community that is the most vulnerable, economically and socially disenfranchised and exposed to the addictive substances is later disproportionally heavily policed in relation to those. It is very illustrative that Black men get harsher punishments for smaller amounts of cocaine than their white counterparts.
Such stereotypes continuously also contribute to the destructive trends of Black drug addiction in other, more sinister ways. As the media of the 1980-s was portraying Black people as desperate to get a dose and led mad by their crack use, other members of the American society began to absorb these falsehoods. It was relatively easy for them due to pre-existing racial bias against African-Americans, that are already viewed as aggressive, lazy, and animalistic. In this case, this societal panic led to the increase of unemployment and mass sackings in the Black community. These events, in turn, increased the levels of poverty and disenfranchisement even more, making these fired men and their children more vulnerable to the call of drugs.
Considering this background situation, to re-structure and revise the drug policy in the modern American politics, it is essential to recognize the inefficiency of the color-blind approach. Racial inequality has unfortunately become an integral part of the American reality, and combating it would require systemic and consistent changes. Race should be accounted for when reviewing drug addiction legal statistics and amnesty hearings (Rosino & Hughey, 2018).
On a more radical and largely overlapping side of the conversation, the states that have legalized marijuana usage should release the prisoners held in relation to these charges. As stated before, Black men are the most likely to get the worst sentences for this type of offenses, even when the offense itself was minor. Consecutively, such amnesty would make the people feel satisfied in their call for justice and benefit the Black community in particular.
I agree with Dr. Hart on the necessity of re-education on the topic of drugs since the current knowledge is mostly informed with fear-mongering policies of the past. Those who use drugs today have little to no access to the information in relation to harm reduction, appropriate and inappropriate mixing and sanitary requirements. One of the deadliest symptoms associated with drug use, that is not directly tied to the chemicals of a substance and its effects on the body, is an HIV condition. Transmitted through blood, it can get easily passed on to another addict if the two share a needle without proper sanity protocol being in place.
Re-education, in my opinion, should have two distinct stages, addressing the moralist concerns and the pseud-scientific myths, respectively. I believe that on a social and communal level, it is essential to establish that drug use in media has been unnecessarily stigmatized. Policy-makers and volunteers should be encouraged to implement harm reduction programs rather than ineffective punishing approaches. An example of this program would be an introduction of a controlled drug intake procedure, where an addict is slowly reducing their drug dose while supervised by a medical professional.
Finally, a comprehensive guideline on the intake and safe combinations of drugs should be issued et masse by federal healthcare services. “People rarely die from heroin alone, it’s the combination that’s deadly. Maybe we should blast that out as a public health education message.” – says Hart (2014). The focus on the priority and the idea of the greater good should be shifted from punishing the drug users to assisting them.
The second stage concerns the evolution of the fundamentally wrong understanding society has conceptualized on the topic of drugs. Ignorance dominates the conversation, with ideas like becoming addicted from one hit of crack floating in the air. Chemical specifics of a drug, the ways the brain responds to it, the actual details of withdrawal, and many other subjects should be brought up at the second stage of re-education. I think that the direct scientific information on occurring chemical reactions and conditions of the addiction development and management would be the most compelling to my social circle and myself.
I have discussed this book with many other people both within and outside of my usual conversational circle, as I was unable to stop thinking about the structural injustices depicted in the memoir. Just as myself, the people I discussed the memoir with were shocked to learn about the extent to which racial bias affects law enforcement and policy changes in Ireland. These topics are becoming increasingly relevant in the modern context where the questions of violence and racism in police structures are being talked about. While it is too early for color-blind society, color-conscious equal society is a necessary goal, and it would be impossible without tackling the drug policy.
In conclusion, High Price is an influential and eye-opening work that manages to enhance heavy subjects with vulnerable honesty through the memoir section. The book definitely succeeds in its self-proclaimed aim to introduce the intricacies of its world to an average New York Times reader. It is breathtakingly successful in unmasking some of the existing social barriers and contradictions that vulnerable Black children are affected by from a very young age. Carl Hart connects with his readers both from the position of expertise and from the position as a human being.
Hart, C. (2014). High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society. Harper Collins Publishers.
Rosino, M., & Hughey, M. (2018). The War on Drugs, Racial Meanings, and Structural Racism: A Holistic and Reproductive Approach. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 77(3-4), 849-892. Web.