Do We Approach Drug Addiction Correctly in the Criminal Justice System?

At the Criminal Lawyers Association annual fall conference in 2015, I heard a talk by Dr. Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University on drug addiction. 

In a similar TED talk, Dr. Hart says "It is not drug addiction driving people to commit crimes; it is other factors." 

According to Dr. Hart, we have been led to believe that many substances (crack cocaine for example) are much more addictive than they are in reality. He says that the "one hit and you are hooked idea" came out of some 1960s lab tests using animals. In these tests, the animals were allowed unlimited access to hard drugs. The animals would use the drugs until they died.

However, according to Dr. Hart, these cages: 

"...only contained a lever that led to intravenous drug injections – nothing else.  The most interesting part to me, however, was what happened when the animals were presented with a choice between the drug lever and non-drug alternatives such as toys, sexually receptive mates, or sweet treats.  When given any other option, animals do not self-administer drugs until death. In fact, animals will often choose non-drug alternatives over drugs!"

Here is a great summary of these experiments:

Dr. Hart's research has gone on to show that attractive alternatives to drugs like meaning fully employment or other social and economic opportunities can reduce drug use and abuse among people as well. 

He advocates for drug policies that replace the stigmatization and marginalization of drug users and addicts under the existing system with a system that offers better and more meaningful alternatives to drugs for the most vulnerable in society.

"The real problems are poverty, unemployment, selective drug law enforcement, ignorance and the dismissal of science that surrounds these drugs. As a scientist, I am doing my best to lessen the ignorance by disseminating the science. I hope you will join me."

Check out Dr. Hart's talk.