Dr. Carl Hart, the former chair of Columbia University’s psychology department who studies the effects of drug use, recently admitted to frequently using heroin and argues that the government should decriminalize all illegal drugs. In his recently released book, he wrote “I am an unapologetic drug user. I take drugs as part of my pursuit of happiness, and they work. I am a happier and better person because of them.”
Perhaps Dr. Hart has been a bit too indulgent of his study material.
Throughout the United States, there have been far too many stories about parents who passed out from drug use with their child in the back seat of the car. In one situation, the child found was only three weeks old and in another situation, a child found in filthy clothes was old enough to tell officers that she had not eaten for a day or had a shower in days.
This is the reality many families deal with on a daily basis.
For example, a family friend has a daughter who is currently in congestive heart failure in her early 30s due to habitual drug use and has at times resorted to prostitution in order to feed her habit. Despite her severe health situation, she is at times homeless. Her parents worry and pray over her daily.
But apparently, after studying drug use for many years, Dr. Hart believes that these stories are not the result of addiction but of government overreach and racism. In fact, he argues in his book, “Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear,” that taking something like heroin is “the foundation of liberty.”
He wrote, “When I was a naive graduate student, I believed that I was doing God’s work by telling people to stay away from drugs. I believed that the poverty and crime that plagued my childhood community were a direct result of drug use and addiction. I now know that telling people to avoid drugs is no more godly than the Church prohibiting my Catholic wife from using birth control, but it is just as paternalistic, a way of restricting one’s freedom and autonomy…
“The inconsistency of federal laws with these initiatives and programs, and with the increasing number of studies demonstrating the medical usefulness of the substance, highlights our government’s hypocrisy and undoubtedly undermines people’s trust in the government when it comes to regulating other drugs as well…
“Here’s the bottom line: over my more than twenty-five-year career, I have discovered that most drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and that some responsible drug-use scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning. Even ‘recreational’ drugs can and do improve day-to-day living. Several large research studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption, for example, is associated with decreased risk of stroke and heart disease, the top killers in the United States each year. As you will discover, a number of beneficial effects have been observed with other drugs as well. From my own experience—the combination of my scientific work and my personal drug use, I have learned that recreational drugs can be used safely to enhance many vital human activities.”
In regards to racism, he argues, “When we think about cocaine, for example, we banned it for irrational reasons, for reasons of American racism. Same thing with opioids. We paired these drugs with the behavior of groups we didn’t like, and behavior that we exaggerated, like crime, like Black men being with white women. “
For a scientist, he fails to recognize the great and glaring flaw in his argument. Not everyone can take a drug and be “responsible.”
Addiction is a disease—whether that’s an addiction to drugs, alcohol, food, porn, shopping, gaming, gambling or a variety of other things. Every one of these addictions has negative consequences.
A food addict, for example, may eat an entire cake in one sitting while a person who doesn’t struggle with food will be content with a single slice. Watching at least one episode of “My 600-Pound Life” shows the consequences of overeating, which is often tied to early trauma like a death in the family or sexual abuse. As a result of extreme eating for years, some contestants have died during the process of filming.
Personally, sweets have always been a bit of a challenge for me, but I’ve never had an issue with opioids, despite being prescribed them after two major surgeries. I can use them responsibly, but I struggle to limit myself to not eat six cupcakes in one sitting. (Sad, but true.)
Hart claims to not struggle with an addiction to heroin, but there’s no guarantee that his advice won’t result in someone else becoming addicted. This goes for food (especially sugary food), alcohol, drugs (illegal and prescription) and the others mentioned earlier. Just because one person can handle their alcohol intake responsibly, doesn’t mean that another person can, which is why there are laws against drinking and driving.
Regardless of the supposed health benefits, which are likely few and far between, there is no doubt that an overindulgence in heroin, cocaine, marijuana, opioids and other illegal drugs can have long-term health consequences or result in the death of the user or someone else.
It’s entirely possible that Hart himself is addicted to heroin and just doesn’t recognize the signs because he’s become so infatuated with his research subject that he’s lost all objectivity. He wrote, “There aren’t many things in life that I enjoy more than a few lines by the fireplace at the end of the day.”
That’s incredibly sad. Family, friends and faith should bring infinitely more joy and comfort than “a few lines (of heroin) by the fireplace.” And, according to at least one source, he may actually currently be in stage two of addiction, when “drug abuse becomes more regular and habitual.”
Hart is utterly irresponsible as a scientist and a professor in suggesting that adults should indulge because he believes heroin has made his life better and that he can handle using drugs responsibly. In particular, his campaign to normalize and legalize drugs is a dangerous proposition, and one that could result in many casualties, family tragedies, child neglect and other harmful situations.
Resources for Substance Abuse Addiction
Four Stages of Drug Addiction: Recognizing the Signs
The Vicious Truth about Drug Addiction and Alcoholism
National Institute on Drug Abuse
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