Carl Hart

American neuroscientist known for research in drug abuse and drug addiction

Carl Hart (born October 30, 1966) is an American psychologist and neuroscientist, working as the Mamie Phipps Clark Professor of Psychology (in Psychiatry) at Columbia University. Hart is known for his research on drug abuse and drug addiction, his advocacy for the decriminalization of recreational drugs, and his recreational use of drugs like heroin. Hart is one of the first tenured African American professors of sciences at Columbia University. team.)

Carl Hart (2012)


Interview with Democracy Now (2014)Edit

  • I grew up in the hood. And so, when we think about these communities that we care about, the communities that have been so-called devastated by drugs of abuse, I believed that narrative for a long time. In fact, I’ve been studying drugs for about 23 years; for about 20 of those years, I believed that drugs were the problems in the community. But when I started to look more carefully, started looking at the evidence more carefully, it became clear to me that drugs weren’t the problem. The problem was poverty, drug policy, lack of jobs—a wide range of things. And drugs were just one sort of component that didn’t contribute as much as we had said they have.
  • one of the things that shocked me when I first started to understand what was going on, when I discovered that 80 to 90 percent of the people who actually use drugs like crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana—80 to 90 percent of those people were not addicted. I thought, “Wait a second. I thought that once you use these drugs, everyone becomes addicted, and that’s why we had these problems.” That was one thing that I found out. Another thing that I found out is that if you provide alternatives to people—jobs, other sort of alternatives—they don’t overindulge in drugs like this. I discovered this in the human laboratory as well as the animal laboratory. The same thing plays out in the animal literature.
  • the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford...The guy used crack cocaine, and he did his job. Despite what you think of him and his politics, but he came to work every day. He did his job. The same is true even of Marion Barry. He came to work every day, did his job. In fact, he did his job so well, so the people of D.C. thought, that they voted for him even after he was convicted for using crack. But that’s the majority of crack cocaine users. Just like any other drug, most of the people who use these drugs do so without a problem.
  • when we think about alcohol, about 10 percent of the people—10 to 15 percent of the people who use alcohol are addicted or meet criteria for alcoholism; for crack cocaine, about 15 to 20 percent—the same sort of thing when we look at the numbers. And we’ve known this in science for at least 40 years, we’ve known this sort of thing, but we haven’t told the public.
  • the criteria, to me—the way we judge whether someone is an addict is whether or not they have disruptions in their psychosocial functioning. Are they going to work? Are they handling their responsibilities? Or are they overindulging in the activity? And when we think about drugs like alcohol, wine every day, people can drink alcohol every day and still meet their responsibility. The same is true with crack cocaine. The same is true with powder cocaine. The same is true with marijuana. Think about it this way. The three most recent presidents all used illicit drugs, and they all have met their responsibilities. They’ve reached the highest levels of power. And we would be proud if they were our children, if they—despite the fact that they’ve all used illegal drugs.
  • when people overindulge, like every day multiple times a day, it’s going to disrupt some of your psychosocial functioning. Now, that is a small number of people. Only a few people engage in behavior like that. And I assure you that if they engage in behavior like that, that’s not their only problem. They have multiple other problems.
  • People get addicted for a wide range of reasons. Some people have co-occurring or other psychiatric illnesses that contribute to their drug addiction. Other people get addicted because that’s the best option available to them; other people because they had limited skills in terms of responsibility skills. People become addicted for a wide range of reasons. If we were really concerned about drug addiction, we would be trying to figure out precisely why each individual became addicted. But that’s not what we’re really interested in. We are interested, in this society, of vilifying a drug. In that way, we don’t have to deal with the complex issues for why people really become addicted.
  • I marvel at what we are learning about how the brain works, in general. And so, we are not anywhere near being able to explain drug addiction with our brain science yet. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to try and figure out what’s going on in the brain.
  • when we think about the numbers of African Americans who are in neuroscience and why—they’re low—and why the numbers are low, that’s an issue that the society hasn’t grappled with. And it’s related to some of this marijuana talk that we’re talking about. You played something about Kennedy earlier. Those kind of people, they sicken me, quite frankly, when we think about the role that racism has played in our drug enforcement, and those people don’t knowledge that? Those kind of—those types of practices have played a role in why African Americans are not in many areas in the United States.
  • if we continue the same sort of drug enforcement policies, one in three African-American males born today will spend some time in jail.
  • When we think about the dangers of marijuana, they are about the equivalent of alcohol. Now, I don’t want to somehow talk about the dangers of alcohol or to besmirch the reputation of alcohol, because I think that every society should have intoxicants. We need intoxicants. And every society has always had intoxicants. So alcohol is fine...(intoxicants) make people more interesting, decreases anxiety. Alcohol is associated with a wide range of health-beneficial effects—decreased heart disease, decreased strokes, all of these sorts of things. The same can be true of a drug like marijuana—helps people sleep better, can decrease anxiety at the right doses.
  • We have automobiles. They are potentially dangerous, particularly if you’ve been in New York City in these past couple of days, the icy roads and so forth. Now, in the 1950s, automobile accidents were relatively high. We instituted some measures—seat belts, speed limits, all of those sorts of things. That rate, even though we have more cars on the road, has dramatically decreased. If people are really concerned about the dangers of marijuana, we’d be teaching people how to use marijuana and other drugs more safely, because they’re not going anywhere.
  • Without welfare, I wouldn’t be here.
  • while in England, I got quite an education about American racism. In England, they have programs on a regular basis like the U.S. PBS series Eyes on the Prize. And I learned a lot about the U.S. sort of civil rights movement and history while in England. And the British were not bashful in their criticism of American racism.
  • Scientists’ first goal is not communication, it seems. It seems like their first goal is not to be wrong. And we’re missing an opportunity to help educate the American public about how to decrease harms related to drugs.
  • I make sure that I educate my kids on how to be safe in driving their car, how to be safe when they have sex. The same is true with drugs. I make sure I let them understand the potential positive effects, the potential negative effects, and how to avoid the potential negative effects. I’ve written about this on AlterNet, a letter to my son about how to use drugs safely or what you need to be aware of.

Interview with Democracy Now (2017)Edit

  • Everybody knows that the war on drugs, as has been fought since the 1980s, has had a disproportionate negative impact on specific community: black communities, Latino communities. Everyone knows that. So, what Jeff Sessions is doing is engaged in—or he’s advocating being engaged in racial discrimination. So let’s call Jeff Sessions what he is. Jeff Sessions is a racist, if he takes on this action. It’s clear. We know it. So let’s stop playing around with it.
  • It’s a proven fact that this mandatory minimums policy wasted billions of dollars, and, more importantly, many human lives were wasted in this action in the past.
  • Jeff Sessions is allowing us or is using drug policy to separate the people who we like from the people who we don’t like. And it provides a way to go after those people we don’t like, usually poor minority folks, without explicitly saying we don’t like those people. And that’s how drug law—that’s how drug law or drug policy has been enforced in this country. And so, if we allow Sessions to turn back the hands of time, then shame on all of us. The blood is on all of our hands, because we know the consequences of his proposed actions.
  • before 2012, we were arresting people for marijuana in Colorado, in Washington and those other states. We’re no longer doing that. Now we’re saying it’s OK. It was always OK. It’s just that our laws were not in line. Now we’re doing—now we’re arresting people for things like cocaine, heroin and those sorts of things, sending people to jail for extended periods of time. Now, this is not to say that we should legalize drugs. That’s not the argument here. We certainly should not be sending people to jail for those extended periods that Jeff Sessions is advocating for. And he’s doing so because he’s going after people who we don’t care for in the United States.
  • If we’re really concerned, for example, like the opioids and heroin, we need to tell people how to stay safe, if we’re worried about overdose there. About 13,000 people die every year from heroin-related overdoses, whereas 35,000 people die from automobile accidents. We don’t ban automobiles. Instead, we have regulations, and we try to make sure that people stay safe. We have speed limits. We have seat belts. We have all of these sorts of things. But with the opioids, we’re talking about arresting people. And by the way, for the opioids, at the federal level, 80 percent of the people who are arrested are Latino and black.

Interview with Democracy Now (2017)Edit

  • when we think about the deaths themselves, most of the people are dying in large part because they combine opioids with another sedative, like alcohol, like a benzodiazepine. A benzodiazepine is something like Xanax. They also combine opioids with older antihistamines. Those sorts of things, they increase the risk associated with opioids.
  • Much of the heroin on the street today is now being tainted with this drug called fentanyl. Fentanyl is about 50 to a hundred times more potent than heroin, just simply means that less of the drug is needed to produce the required effect. But unsuspecting users may take the amount that they usually take with heroin, thinking that it’s heroin, when in fact it’s fentanyl.
  • What we can do, we can simply set up free drug purity testing sites. They do this in Spain. They do this in the Netherlands. They do this in Switzerland...That way, when people understand what’s in their drug, they can scale back their use or not use it. Free drug purity testings would tell you the complete composition of the drug that you have. So if you want to save lives, you can set that up easily.
  • I’m concerned that if we add more money, we will send most of the money to law enforcement. And when we do that, we know what happens. We saw it with crack. We saw it with opioids before, in the 1960s. What happens is more black and brown people will be arrested. Do not forget that.
  • I worry that people who need prescription opioids for their pain will not be able to get their prescription opioids, because we are getting crazy about opioids, in general. Opioids are excellent medications to treat pain. And we can’t forget that. We also have seen, even before this—we know that, for example, black people are less likely to be prescribed opioids even when they need it, less likely than their white counterparts. And so, all of these sort of unintended consequences, they always happen when we get crazy about drugs. And we don’t even save people.
  • I wrote a piece in The New York Times in August where I pointed out that this isn’t new. Even with crack, there were white—more white users, and those white users got treatment, whereas the brothers and sisters, black brothers and sisters, went to jail. The same sort of thing is happening in this case. Eighty percent of the people who are being currently arrested for the opioids are black and Latino, even though they don’t use those drugs at rates higher than their white brothers and sisters. And so, this is just the American pattern of dealing with drugs. It’s not new. And we continue the same thing. So I’m asking people: let’s not get crazy; let’s just focus on the real problems.
  • Only about a quarter of the people who use something like heroin will become addicted. That means the vast majority are not addicted. But one way we can deal with the deaths, the major concern—another way we can deal is just make naloxone, which is an opioid blocker, make it more available. One of the things that has happened in recent years is that pharmaceutical companies have jacked the price up of naloxone, an old drug that’s been here since the 1960s. I mean, if Congress really wanted to do something, if the president really wanted to do something, he would hold those pharmaceutical companies accountable for increasing the price of naloxone, when the price of naloxone should be really cheap.
  • people are focused on the money and not focused on being smart.
  • we are all concerned about mass incarceration in the country today. If you want to know how we got there, right now what we’re doing, with people like Jeff Sessions and that guy in the White House, is how we got there. And they’re trying to ensure that we go back there, in part because it’s going to affect primarily, negatively affect, black people and brown people in this country.
  • When I say “racist,” I mean when people who support policies and their behaviors are in such a way that one group disproportionately is unjustly treated. And that’s what we have going on right now. So when we have Jeff Sessions saying this sort of thing, the consequences will be racial discrimination. And he’s supporting that kind of policy or that action. That makes him a racist.
  • Make sure we warn people not to combine opioids with another drug. Set up free drug purity testing sites. People who are addicted to opioids and who are having a problem, and they need treatment. We should look around the world, places like Switzerland.

Quotes about Carl HartEdit

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