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Providing alternatives to drugs may disrupt addiction in the poor

What if addicts were not really addicts? What if they were given other options than drugs?

Researcher Dr. Carl Hart says that people will respond to alternatives like cash in lieu of drugs. His findings turn the long held belief that drugs trapped the poor. He posits that drug use is more of a coping mechanism than it is a trap of addiction.

Some will not be surprised that Hart found that poverty, rather than drugs, is far more damaging to families and communities. From the New York Times:

Yes, he notes, some children were abandoned by crack-addicted parents, but many families in his neighborhood were torn apart before crack — including his own. (He was raised largely by his grandmother.) Yes, his cousins became destitute crack addicts living in a shed, but they’d dropped out of school and had been unemployed long before crack came along.

“There seemed to be at least as many — if not more — cases in which illicit drugs played little or no role than were there situations in which their pharmacological effects seemed to matter,” writes Dr. Hart, now 46. Crack and meth may be especially troublesome in some poor neighborhoods and rural areas, but not because the drugs themselves are so potent.

Hart is making the news rounds to promote his new book, High Price. It is being described as a equal bit autobiography (the crack epidemic that wrecked his community motivated his research into stopping drug use) and research study.

“If you’re living in a poor neighborhood deprived of options, there’s a certain rationality to keep taking a drug that will give you some temporary pleasure,” Dr. Hart to the NYT. “The key factor is the environment, whether you’re talking about humans or rats.”

Might this give pause to the idea of excluding men from microfinance programs? Could it be possible that well-designed loans could reduce alcohol consumption and drug use?


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]