Busting the Drug Addiction Myth

We need to be honest about what drugs do and don’t do.

In the United States, scientists place a disproportionate focus on their negative effects, and since the country is the largest funder of research on drugs, it has helped fuel the dangerous rhetoric that dominates today’s drug policy discourse. This language preys on people’s fears and further marginalizes people who use drugs, often times harming the poorest and most vulnerable.

This narrative fails to point out that between 10 to 20 percent of people who use drugs, depending on the substance, become addicted.

As a part of an experiment at Dr. Carl Hart’s psychology lab at Columbia University, his team offered alternatives such as cash incentives to people who use drugs to encourage them to shift their behavior. With the right amount of financial incentive, most participants of the study eventually chose the money over drugs. Importantly, this demonstrated that the users were not purely driven by the drug itself and were able to negotiate the most beneficial alternative.

For too long, we’ve tried to frighten the public with scare tactics and deter with punitive measures rather than rely on evidence and educate with facts.

As Hart says in the video above, “The evidence is overwhelming that we are going about this the wrong way.” Scientists, advocates, politicians, health care providers, and citizens alike need to develop and promote drug policies grounded in social justice, public health, and human rights.

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Great! But careful about 'blasting' info on how to kill yourself. People are not as stupid as you think. Instead the keys are to (1) decriminalize and (2) warn people about abstinence based treatment - which results in bingeing, bullying and death. Yes you can warn people that mixing is dangerous but with the message that death is usually intentional. (Which it is.)

Thanks for this interesting and evidence based article. These debates are also happening in the UK and Ireland. Mostly politicians don't look at evidence, are too narrow minded, and afraid to rock the boat. David Nutt and Steve Rolles are excellent examples of people not afraid to take risks in promoting the health and social justice side of this issue. In Ireland Politician Aodhan O Riordhan has also taken risks and pushed for harm reduction and safe injecting rooms.

Well said. Even in the face of all of this honesty, as a society, we still have difficulty solving our drug problems because ultimately it is linked to our unwavering love of capitalism. We love money more than we love anything, including our children. We must fix ourselves.

To get off drugs/addiction need HOPE, prospect of a life worth living, need all the BASICS in place, including inclusion, acceptance, love and private and free communication (of many kinds). All supposed to be our rights... = access to those/all first. And maybe then it will follow that...

Yes, for a long time I thought they (who?!) should do this also to encourage/reward (gifts, rewards, points to exchange for services/products/sports/holidays = REAL free wide choice, lists created by users): exercise, quit smoking (lots of different drugs), useful preventative medecine, healthy living. But MUST create the choice/ability to = for ALL, including the poor, uneducated, disabled, young, old, excluded/groups facing higher barriers.

And OUR top priorities, not bureaucrats/governments.
And not things like blood pressure as in UK = GPs rewarded for some things but the major ones excluded such as skin cancers, chronic illness, dentist, optician = lots of BASICS.

And need REAL info on risks for eg vaccines and drugs. Oh yes AND for 'healthy' sports, injury/disease caused by bad housing, stress & poverty on benefits, no access to healthcare,...

Obvious. Simple.

And governments should be rewarded for access to healthcare, housing, good food, enough basic income to all = social security. Those not providing this are obviously criminals, torturers, crimes against humanity. But nobody, no person, responsible & accountable?

changing the world

drugs are good because they are.
everything else is irrelevant

This was an interesting commentary, like to learn more.

Yes, it cannot be denied that the vast majority of drug users are not folk having an ongoing torturous relationship with drugs (as I have). I also agree that this needs to be reiterated over and over again as it seems drugs (like so many other emotive issues) have so many lies or misinformation attached to them. And these distortions have led to the most abominable interventions against people who use drugs and all associated communities.
Of course I am biased as an X-IDU but I think this is one of the groups that has suffered some of the most brutal injustices decade after decade of this myopic immoral drug war. Whenever I think of places like Iran, China, Russia , SE Asia where the IDU population is devastated by AIDS, i need to go to a remote location and scream because all of these deaths could so easily have been so easily prevented. Screaming over, I can continue to help end this war on vulnerable/poor communities. Feel so privileged to be part of the growing family of reformers in the world... usersvoice.org

It is time now, together we can make changes.

Addiction, alcoholism or just a learned bad habit if you will, are like most other "diseases" in society; very sparsely represented, so he/you are correct when you say only a small percentage become "addicted/diseased or develop a "bad habit" they cannot control. So at first glance your suggestion is to simply offer them an alternative drug. You're absolutely correct when you say "we" (science?) are going about it the wrong way, treatment/clinical models have been doing it wrong since they first started, but they won't listen and now new theories and ideas, like yours, keep popping up. You, your good heart, and mindfulness prevention, and all other methods like harm reduction, relapse prevention, new medicines, CBT therapies and so on, and on and on, only reveal that you continue to not understand the true nature of this condition named addiction or bad habit thus, the field in which you all work, fails to understand recovery or how to help people truly move away from it successfully and abstain without a problem and that includes replacing with any other kind of addiction or substance. Sorry, but you missed it with a glancing shot. I would tell you but you would not believe me.

Clearly the world needs a new system. If the resources of the world where properly managed there would be enough for all to live a prosperous and happy life. Humanity needs to move toward embracing one another we are all taking the same ride on planet earth.

Agnes Callamard is misquoting you, Dr. Hart. She assumes that ALL societies and communities in the world have the resources of the United States or Europe.

Btw, where do you get money to pay for addicts in a 3rd world nation? Or for that matter, how about Baltimore Cleveland, or West Virginia? Federal funding?

For real?

Different people have different psyche. Was your study involves different ethnic backgrounds?
As an example, supposed you gave drugs to a penniless person. He might be willing to take the drug for the first time in his life just to get whatever money you gave him. Did you solve any problem? yes, the money problem for a while. But addiction or potential addiction, NO. It would be the same reason as giving away money for no reason at all.

Carl, I agree that policies should be driven by scientific evidence. I'm curious what your references for the part where you said 70% of opiate overdoses are due to mixing opiates with benzos. I'm also curious about the statistic of only 20% of people who use drugs become addicted. In my experience, opiate misuse in individuals who are on opiates longer than 6 months, the percent is much higher than 20. If you could please provide references, that would be helpful because my experience in working with patients is not consistent with the "facts" as you state them. Thank you!

This article re enforced my belief that "You can't legislate morals. Politicians, Law Enforcement & The Moral Majority" continue to repeat History. Prostitution, Prohibition & now The War onDrugs, all failed miserably. The difference with the Drug War? We've allowed it to go on for so long that too many Prison Employees, DEA Agents, Politicians & their Families depend on keeping drugs illegal. America is THE MOST INCARCERATED NATION
IN THE WORLD. Both the Legal & Illegal sides of this issue, are making so much money that I doubt there will ever be reform.

Good work

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