06/09/13 Carl Hart

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Dr. Carl Hart author of High Price - A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self Discover That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs & Socieity + Terry Nelson of LEAP: "officials abuse the law to fight drugs"

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Cultural Baggage

Cultural Baggage / June 9, 2013

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[music]

DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.

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DEAN BECKER: My name is Dean Becker. You are listening to the Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. I thank you for joining us. We do have online our guests for this evening. He is a scientist. He has written a great new book called, “High Price - A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs & Society.”

I had the honor of doing an interview with him about a month ago up in Brooklyn. I want to welcome Dr. Carl Hart.

CARL HART: Thank you for having me.

DEAN BECKER: I want to first commend you, praise you for this book. It tells a great story of a life here in America and the life of the drug war. Kudos, my friend.

CARL HART: Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: The beginning of the book kind of tells the story of a young man growing up in many ways…in fact growing away from his environment, his family and friends because of the life changes you made. Is that a fair thought?

CARL HART: Yes that certainly is. It’s a coming of age story and being a black person coming of age in the state sometimes means being caught between two worlds. I hope I did a good job of explaining that.

DEAN BECKER: You did. In some ways my transition from youth to adult was almost the antithesis of yours. I went from a middle class background kind of reaching towards working class status if you follow me. But this was the 60s – a time of rebellion so to speak, right?

CARL HART: Yes, that’s right.

DEAN BECKER: Your’s was a couple decades later I guess…your transition, your advance into the Air Force, your embrace of education, right?

CARL HART: That’s right.

DEAN BECKER: Let’s talk about the progress, the education that you have received.

CARL HART: As you noted in the book I talk about having a scanty education or poor education in high school – barely literate, quite frankly. The only reason I stayed in school was to remain on the basketball team and really didn’t see the value of an education.

Then I went into the Air Force and learned some things that I didn’t know – some things that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know. Then I found out the importance of an education, the value, the power of education. I committed myself to education just like I had previously to athletics.

In doing so it meant that some of the people, some of the things I was once in to I was no longer in to and sometimes people may feel slighted when, in fact, it’s not really about them it’s about me. Those were difficult waters to navigate.

DEAN BECKER: I’m sure. We all run into those kind of familial situations. Now the focus of the book deals with the drug war interweaving itself into life here in America, right?

CARL HART: Yes. It is a difficult book for some people to wrap their heads around because it’s a memoir but it’s also a big ideas book. It’s also a science book. It’s also a policy book – policy being drug policy.

All of those things are who I am and they make up me. I thought that the only way for me to tell my story was to talk about science, growing up in the ‘hood, to talk about my disgust with the current drug policy particular as one tries to wrap their head around the science and how inconsistent what we are currently doing with drug policy is with the science.

DEAN BECKER: You’ve done the investigation on people using methamphetamine and I want to speak on that because I had about a 2 and one-half year dalliance with methamphetamine myself. It started with the Air Force by the way who handed it out like candy in the beginning and it became “methamphetamine or life” and I chose life because too many people get caught up in chasing down those drugs and finding the drugs and spending their lives chasing drugs. I think that’s the biggest failing, if you will, of methamphetamine users.

CARL HART: One of the things I try to do in the book is point out that most of the people who use methamphetamine don’t have that type of relationship with the drug. There are, of course, people who do have that relationship but the problem for me is most of attention is focused on people who have trouble with the drug – people who have a pathological relationship with the drug when, in fact, the majority of the people don’t.

The folks who have a problem with the drug we certainly want to pay attention to that, certainly want to make sure that we help them to the best of our ability but we certainly shouldn’t be making policy based on a select group who have a problem with the drug when the majority of the people don’t.

Now that is not to say that methamphetamine does not have the potential for harmful effects to those individuals who use it but if we think about another drug that we are all familiar with – let’s say alcohol. There is 10 to 15% of the people who use alcohol who have a pathological relationship with that drug but you don’t see the society making laws based on that 10 to 15%. We tried to do that in 1919 with prohibition and until 1933 but the other 90 / 85% was like, “Hey, I don’t have a problem with this drug. I know how to use it and I’m fine. I know how to enhance the positive effects and minimize the negative effects. Why should I be punished because of that?”

In the book I’m trying to get the public to realize that’s what we have done with cocaine. That’s what we have done with methamphetamine. That’s what we have done with heroin.

It doesn’t mean that we can all of the sudden change the way we are regulating those drugs today. It means we need to change the way that we are educating about these drugs and then think about changing the way we regulate these drugs.

I put forth that we should decriminalize all these drugs first and then have the sort of corresponding increase in education and then if people want to think about legalizing all of these drugs that’s fine. But first we have to be re-educated because currently we’re talking to the country about drugs like the whole entire country are adolescents. I’m trying to have an adult discussion about drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we are speaking with Dr. Carl Hart. He’s author of, “High Price - A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs & Society.”

That word there “know” – so many people think they know this truth and they stand adamantly opposed to any changes but there is much they “know” that just ain’t true right, Carl?

CARL HART: That’s absolutely right. We just have been miseducated, misinformed about what drugs do. I guess some of the most detrimental education surrounding drugs has been doled out by law enforcement and people turn to law enforcement, for example, for educating people about drugs. That’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.

What we have to do is make sure anybody (whether it’s law enforcement, or somebody like me, a scientist) we have to make sure that whatever they are talking about as it relates to drugs has foundations in real evidence. Ask people the question, “What’s the evidence to support your position?”

If people say, “Well, my Uncle Jack told me…” That’s not evidence – that’s anecdote. Anecdote, often times, are not even representative of the real situation. So anecdote might be fine to illustrate a point but please make sure that it is grounded in evidence. What’s the evidence to support that anecdote.

DEAN BECKER: It occurs to me as we’re talking about anecdotal evidence and the fact of the matter is is that not just too often but all the time the takes the words of cops and people in the criminal justice system and uses their words as evidence to continue this policy even though these people have absolutely no medical background.

CARL HART: In chapter 17 of the book I really deal with that issue because it has disturbed me as well precisely how you pointed out. Law enforcement officials don’t have any training in pharmacology. They don’t have any training in the behavioral sciences.

They are trained very well to deal with people who are criminals. Now when you’re dealing with people who are criminals…people can act bizarre in the presence of law enforcement simply because they are afraid because they’ve done something wrong and you can get a lot of bizarre behaviors.

Oftentimes that bizarre behavior is attributed to a drug when, in fact, there’s no drug on board – or there is a drug on board like alcohol. It may be that the person has some sort of psychiatric issue but drugs are typically scapegoated in those situations long before we even know if drugs are involved or if drugs aren’t involved we still say that drugs were involved.

That has gone a long way for perpetuating myths about drugs.

DEAN BECKER: There is a very current situation that kind of touches on what you are talking about. Alcohol being a contributor with other drugs – it complicates it. A recent story…a crane operator in New York (I think it was) is accused of manslaughter because he was high on marijuana and codeine.

Now the codeine was mentioned in the earlier stories but it’s being focused on marijuana now. I guess the point I’m trying to make here, sir, is whether it’s marijuana, codeine or whatever it’s blaming the drugs rather than waiting for an investigation.

CARL HART: You just described it beautifully. I don’t know the contributions of codeine. I don’t know the contribution of marijuana. I don’t know the contributions of this person’s psychiatric history. It would be nice if we could tease apart those things and figure it out before we disseminate information that’s not complete but certainly we do that too often in this society.

That’s one of the things in the book. I’m trying to ask people to be more careful, more critical because it’s not something that’s neutral when we perpetuate these myths about drugs. If it was neutral then it wouldn’t be a big deal but the perpetuation of these myths about drugs have extremely negative effects on our citizens – particularly our poor, minority citizens because it creates an environment in which the society goes after certain types of drugs (marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine) all of these drugs with such zeal. They go after these drugs at any cost to those in the communities and those communities pay the price.

They pay the price with increased arrest, increased prison sentences and also increased death. If we think about Trevon Martin, if we think about a number of folks …what the person who killed Trevon Martin thought was that he was on some drug. That’s the excuse that they’ve given. This excuse has been given often times when drugs weren’t even involved.

As long as society or people in authority are allowed to believe that drugs somehow create these monstrous effects we are going to get this excessive force from law enforcement and security officers and that’s why I am so concerned about the myths that we have perpetuated about drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we are speaking with Dr. Carl Hart. He’s author of, “High Price - A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs & Society.”

I wanted to come back to the mention of alcohol. I mentioned that it complicates, expounds the problem with the use of other drugs. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

CARL HART: One of the things I try to be careful about doing in the book is I don’t want to vilify one drug for another. Alcohol, for example, we know that there are lots of crime and those sorts of things that may be associated with alcohol and things that concern us as a society.

I don’t want people to get the idea that I think alcohol use should be restricted. I think that the vast majority of people who use alcohol do so safely without problems and responsibly so I don’t want to restrict alcohol but I do want people to understand that no matter what the activity is in society – whether it is drinking alcohol, using cocaine or driving your automobile – whatever it is there is the potential for danger so we cannot be so naïve to think that we’re going to prevent every accident, every sort of tragedy. That’s naïve.

Any public policy that is based on that is not realistic and it will be wasteful. Yeah, there are problems related to alcohol but those problems are actually minimal or minor or relatively low compared to the vast numbers of people who use that drug.

The same can be said for cocaine. The same can be said for other drugs if we enhance our education surrounding their use. We know a great deal about methamphetamine’s effects that we could tell people who are using these drugs to keep them safe. We know a great deal about heroin’s effect which could keep people more safe but often times the public health message is something is that, “Heroin caused this overdose and killed this person.”

You know, while heroin overdoses are possible they are highly unlikely and they are rare. 75 or more percent of the people who die from a heroin-related death die because of the use of heroin in combination with another sedative like alcohol.

So the public health message should be screamed out, “Do not use another sedative when you’re using heroin.” If we do that we can prevent a number of deaths but we don’t do that in this society.

Instead we just blame heroin so people who are using heroin don’t know this information. Just tell them, “Please don’t use another sedative.” And keep people safe.

DEAN BECKER: You talk about in the book that there is this idea that drug users have this uncontrollable craving but you’ve conducted studies which show that to be less than true.

CARL HART: There’s this believe, for example, when you take a drug like crack cocaine there was myth perpetuated in the mid-80s that one hit from crack cocaine and you’re addicted for life and you’re only driven by going to get that drug. You have these cognitive impairments – a wide range of sort of negative behavioral effects that we have been led to believe and it’s simply not supported by research.

Data from research does not support those notions. Data from my studies as well as other people’s studies show that people who use crack cocaine are not cognitively impaired. They respond just like you and I would to various options.

OK, if you have a choice between a nice dose of cocaine and nothing – what would you do? Well, you’ll probably take the crack cocaine but if you give them a choice between a hit of crack cocaine and let’s just say 5, 10, 20 dollars or something like that they will choose money. That’s how most of us would respond.

Or if you give them a choice to pay a bill that will help your children out they’ll choose the option that helps their children out and not this sort of myth that we’ve all been taught about. It just simply not supported by evidence from research.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, it’s not a zombie-like “more drugs” – it’s not that way at all.

Once again, speaking with Dr. Carl Hart, author of “High Price.”

I think it was last week…two weeks ago that the New York Times kind of did a mia culpa (that didn’t say as much) but they were talking about the crack baby scare and how untrue that was and, once again, we have to be careful about what we know to be true, right?

CARL HART: The New York Times, like you said, did run that piece about a week and one-half ago but they had run a similar piece maybe a year and one-half/two years ago about the sort of crack baby epidemic that wasn’t.

They have been on it sort of in the past several years. That was all part of the whole crack hysteria – part of these myths that led to those awful laws surrounding crack cocaine versus powder cocaine as you know.

In 1986 we passed these laws that punished crack cocaine one hundred times more harshly than powder cocaine. In the book I clearly show why that was unfair because the two drugs are essentially the same drug. They produce the same effect but the media hysteria surrounding crack cocaine in the mid-80s made the public believe that crack was a completely different drug.

The difference, of course, is that crack is smoked whereas powder cocaine is snorted and injected. When you look at the effects no matter what route the drug is taken the effects are virtually the same particularly when you compare intravenous cocaine administration and smoked cocaine administration. They produce the same effects and I clearly show this in the book.

In August 2010 President Obama signed legislation to decrease the disparity between crack and powder cocaine from 100 – 1 to 18 - 1. That certainly was a step in the right direction but I have been arguing that it needs to be 1-1 because it makes no sense when the two drugs are the same.

It would be like punishing people who smoke marijuana more harshly than those who take marijuana via a brownie. It’s just not fair.

DEAN BECKER: No it’s not, Carl. I tell you what we have a couple minutes left here and I wanted to address the appeal that I think is in this book – the appeal to the American people, the people of the world – to just take another look at this drug problem, right?

CARL HART: Yeah, I hope, as you opened this interview, you pointed out that there was a number of things in the book. One of the things that I hope people see and I want people to see that I’m a regular person. People who grew up like me really have been punished and they really have been shut out of mainstream society. I want people to see that we have wasted large human resources by our drug policy.

If we think about what happened to my friends and the people that grew up with me (this is one of the reasons I told their stories) that could have been me. That could have been …that would have been a loss to our society.

I have made scientific contributions. I have made a number of contributions not to mention that I pay my taxes, trying to do my part to contribute to society. The folks who look like me, who grew up like me, many of the guys my age – they are not. They haven’t made those contributions because they got saddled with a criminal record related to a drug charge, related to drug possession charges and those sorts of things.

The society loses. The society loses their taxes. The society loses their other contribution and so I hope that reasonable people, reasonable Americans will see that this is so un-American and so unfair and realize that we have to do something differently.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, we certainly do. Once again we’re speaking with Dr. Carl Hart. He’s written a great book, “High Price - A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs & Society.”

We’ve got about a minute or so left here. Don’t take this wrong but you’re not my typical pot head interview. You’re a professor at Columbia University. You’ve been awarded a multi-million dollar grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Very good credentials…30 seconds – close it out for us, Carl.

CARL HART: One of the things is that it has taken me a long time to write this book and it had to be the right time and this is the right time. I have been doing this for over 20 years. As you pointed out I have INH grants and I’m on INH review committees. I had to make sure that my credentials were tight.

If my credentials were not tight no one would listen to me particularly when I am challenging so fiercely what is currently being done with drugs. I hope people will read my scientific papers, look at my credentials and see that this is a sincere plea to the American public.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Carl. We’ll be in touch. I’m sure we’ll do another interview before the year is over. Once again I applaud you for your book.

Folks, pick up a copy. Learn a little bit. It’ll perhaps motivate you to help bring an end to this madness. It’s “High Price - A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs & Society.”

Carl Hart, thank you so much.

CARL HART: Thank you and I look forward to seeing you again.

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[game show music]

It’s time to play Name That Drug by Its Side Effects!

Headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, irregular pulse, skin discoloration, weakness, amnesia, agitation, loose stools, coughing, taste perversion, tremors, arrhythmia, cardiac failure and death…

{{{ gong }}}

Time’s up!

Then answer: from Pfizer Laboratories, Caduet, for high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

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TERRY NELSON: This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Mike Riggs of Reason reports that The Justice Department's asset forfeiture fund under President Obama is the largest it's ever been, having grown from $500 million in 2003, to $1.8 billion in 2011, according to a new report from the GAO.

In addition to the fund's size, payments from the fund to local law enforcement agencies totaled $445 million in 2011, another all-time high. These payouts are part of the DOJ's "equitable sharing agreement," which incentivizes local cops to conduct federal raids. They then get a portion of the assets seized during the raid (more money if they contribute more resources). That money is then used to finance SWAT and paramilitary training, as well as the acquisition of military grade weapons and equipment.

Originally the primary reason police seized assets was to break up the illegal drug supply lines. Today, however, that original reason has been replaced by self-serving budgetary considerations. Citizens should legitimately ask why their local police force conducts drug raids. Is it to rid the town of drugs — or are the raids an easy source of extra income that harms innocent people along the way?

The Institute for Justice paper Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture chronicles how state and federal laws leave innocent property owners vulnerable to forfeiture abuse and encourage law enforcement to take property to boost their budgets. The report finds that by giving law enforcement a direct financial stake in forfeiture efforts, most state and federal laws encourage policing for profit, not justice.

Policing for Profit also grades the states on how well they protect property owners—only three states receive a B or better. And in most states, public accountability is limited as there is little oversight or reporting about how police and prosecutors use civil forfeiture or spend the proceeds. Federal laws encourage even more civil forfeiture abuse through a loophole called “equitable sharing” that allows law enforcement to circumvent even the limited protections of state laws. With equitable sharing, law enforcement agencies can and do profit from forfeitures they wouldn’t be able to under state law.

It is time for federal and state legislators to shut down the conflict of interest loophole that allows police departments to profit from their official duties at the expense of the very citizens they are hired to protect. As current and former officers we know that legalization will drastically reduce the crime and violence surrounding drug smuggling.

Let's spend the money on education and treatment instead of incarceration. We all want a better future for ourselves and our children.

It’s time to end civil forfeiture. People shouldn’t lose their property without being convicted of a crime, and law enforcement shouldn’t be able to profit from other people’s property.

Speaking for LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), www.leap.cc, this is Terry Nelson, signing off. Stay safe.

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DEAN BECKER: Alright, my friends, I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Cultural Baggage.

I want to urge you to tune in to this week’s Century of Lies program as well. It features Mike Hyde who lost his son, Cash, to brain cancer but kept him around for a couple of years through the use of medical marijuana as well as a great discussion with my good friend, now-retired Superior Court Judge James P. Gray.

Thanks again to Dr. Carl Hart and his great book, “High Price” and, as always I remind you, once again, that because of prohibition you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.

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DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Policy Studies.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org