In this quiet week after Christmas, I took the chance to catch up on my reading. I discovered the excellent book ‘Chasing the Scream: The first and last days of the war on drugs’ by Johann Hari. It’s a book I’ve had on my shelf for a couple of months and I missed hearing Hari speak recently when he visited Australia. That was definitely my loss.
Hari spent three years researching the war on drugs. He found that the use of cannabis, heroin and cocaine was not always illegal. Internationally, to use and sell such drugs became illegal a century ago as a result of specific policies that were based on racism and willful ignorance. In fact, using such drugs has been described by medical doctors Andrew Weil and Ronald K Siegel as ‘biologically inevitable’ (p. 149) for pleasure and to block out pain and reality. Once such drugs became illegal and had to be sourced on the black market, both prices and associated property crime escalated.
Hari spoke with experts such as Dr Gabor Maté, a doctor who worked with drug users in Canada and found that drugs of themselves were less addictive than once thought. Rather research by Maté, Dr Bruce Alexander and others found that, for many people, drugs were a refuge from trauma, such as memories of adverse childhood experiences. Part of the cause of addition, it has been argued, is the need to bond, which is an innate urge. In the absence of familial attachment or other strong human bonds, people bond with behaviours such as drug use to find meaning and stave off loneliness.