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Columbia Professor Says Public Is “Misinformed” About Drug Use

By Jessica Berardino
(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

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PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) – As many people across the world become addicted to drugs, and locally people are dying from ultra-strong batches of heroin, one expert says we are misinformed about drugs and addiction.

Dr. Carl Hart is the Associate Professor of Psychology at the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Columbia University. He is also the Co-Director at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia.

Hart says the public is misinformed about drug users, saying that only 10 to 20 percent of users will become addicted.

“There is nothing in this world where you take one hit of it and you’re addicted,” said Dr. Hart. “It takes work to be addicted.”

Recently, he authored the book, “High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey Of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs And Society.” His book is based off of the 15-year study he and his colleagues did with drug users by testing their brain activity, food habits, changes in emotion and their sleep schedule.

He points to the 1980s as a time when the public drew many conclusions about drug use, as people were being arrested for cocaine and there were stronger punishments for those caught with crack-rock, rather than powder. He says there were also inconsistencies due to race, as 80 to 90 percent of those arrested were African-American.

During the 1980s, Dr. Hart believes that police officers were “disproportionally” placed in neighborhoods where they thought there would be more drug users. Those places tended to be African-American neighborhoods inevitably characterizing that community as “drug users” and “criminals.”

Through his research, Dr. Hart determined that as every drug market hit the scene, there was always a large outpouring of crime related to that drug. But that doesn’t make all drug users criminals, he says. Once the market stabilizes, the crime will drop too.

“When we think about drugs, we often times think about the people who have these extreme problems related to their drug use then as a result it leads us to think we have to rid ourselves, a society, of those drugs as if those drugs themselves were the problem,” said Dr. Hart. “And that’s not true when the vast majority of the people who use these drugs don’t have the problem, so you can’t say that it’s the drug. People have problems with drugs for a variety of reasons but we often times stop by looking only at the drug and that’s where we fail the people who are having problems and we also fail the society by putting our resources in the wrong places.”

Dr. Carl Hart will be speaking at the University of Pittsburgh Honors College; Department of Psychiatry; and Center on Race and Social Problems on Wednesday, February 12 from 1:30-2:30 p.m. The speech titled, “Challenging Assumptions About Drugs” will be held at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic’s auditorium.
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