Journalist Johann Hari Talks Addiction With Naomi Klein
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British journalist Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, recently gave an in-depth look into his book.
In the interview with author Naomi Klein, Hari delves into the heart of his book’s message and explains how he first began thinking about the War on Drugs, positing on what we’re really fighting against and better ways to do it.
“One of my earliest memories is of trying to wake up one of my relatives and not being able to, and there was a lot of addiction in my family,” Hari said. “And I kind of realized that there were loads of really basic questions that I just didn’t know the answer to about this subject. Why did we start kind of going to war against drug users and addicts in the first place? Why do we continue, even though a lot of people think it doesn’t work? What really causes drug use and drug addiction? And what are the alternatives?”
In search for answers, Hari embarked on an arduous journey spanning nine different countries. Along the way, Hari met with various people, including drug dealers and scientists, and ultimately came the startling realization that we are completely misinformed when it comes to drugs and drug addiction.
“Drugs are not what we think they are,” Hari said. “Addiction is not what we think it is. The drug war is certainly not what we’ve been told it is. And the alternatives aren’t what we think they are.”
Hari explains that while from a technical standpoint “addiction” occurs after 21 days of use, that’s not exactly how it works. He points out that those who are hospitalized for serious injuries are given diamorphine, a medically pure form of heroin. Yet few of those patients leave the hospital addicted.
Hari adds that our view of addiction is based on an outdated model, one that originated many years ago after scientists gave rats the choice between drinking from drug-laced water and pure water. The rats almost always chose the drug-laced water and would ultimately drink themselves to death.
But Hari says there’s more to it than that. It’s not just about the choice between using and not using. It’s not even about brain chemistry or morality. It’s about environment. The rats were isolated, and that’s why they chose the drug-laced water.
According to Hari, the best way to fight the War on Drugs is a combination of compassion, helping addicts reconnect to society, and legalizing drugs “in a smart way.”
“The drug war is based on the idea that the chemicals cause the addiction, and we need to physically eradicate these chemicals from the face of the earth,” Hari said. “If, in fact, it’s not chemicals, if, in fact, it’s isolation and pain that cause the addiction, then it suddenly throws into sharp contrast the idea that we need to impose more isolation and pain on addicts in order to make them stop, which is what we currently do.”