Carl Hart on why it’s time to legalize drugs: “What is wrong with people making that choice?”

From Salon:

Psychologist and author on the myths of the opioid “epidemic,” and why it’s time to ask Americans to be adults

Chauncey DeVega
September 26, 2018

Laws are not natural. They are made by society. As such, they reward certain behavior and punish others. The law is not “neutral” or “blind.” It is made by the powerful, often to the disadvantage of the less powerful. America’s drug laws serve as a powerful example of how justice that is supposed to be dispensed equally becomes a form of social control.

For example, the long-running “War on Drugs” punishes the poor more than the rich. Black and brown people are racially profiled, subjected to “stop and frisk” procedures, and experience routine violations of their civil and human rights. White people — who in many places are actually more likely to possess illegal drugs — are treated much more benignly. Through lobbying, donations and other interest-group behavior, pharmaceutical, tobacco and alcohol manufacturers make sure their products are protected under the law. Politicians understand that the War on Drugs — although it has been a massive policy failure — remains a powerful political tool they can use to raise money and win elections.

What would a rational and humane drug policy look like in America? Is there really an opioid crisis in red-state or suburban America? What does it actually mean to be “addicted” to drugs? Where did the arbitrary distinctions between “legal” and “illegal” drugs come from? Who is winning and who is losing in America’s war on drugs? What social damage has been done by the many myths of the drug war?

In an effort to answer these questions I recently spoke with Dr. Carl Hart, one of America’s leading advocates for the legalization of drugs and their responsible use. He is the chair of the psychology department of at Columbia University, and is Ziff Professor of Psychology in the departments of psychology and psychiatry.

Hart has a reputation as a “myth buster” of the many public misconceptions surrounding drugs and drug use. He is the author of the award winning book “High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society” and has been a featured guest on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Hart’s essays have also appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, and the Nation.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. A longer version can be heard on my podcast.

One of the dominant narratives surrounding Donald Trump’s election is that there are all these “deaths of despair” out there in white, red-state America. In turn these deaths caused by alcohol and opioids caused desperate white people to vote for Trump. What do we actually know about this “epidemic” of opioids in white America?

here is so much conflation going on when we talk about opioids. When we think about just opioids in general, for example, very few people who are addicted to opioids were actually prescribed them. Another example: Even with heroin, less than a quarter of the people who use it are actually addicted to the drug. The vast majority of people who use these drugs are not addicted. But too many people conflate “addiction” with overdose. In fact, people who are addicted are less likely to overdose from the drug, in part because they have a higher tolerance.

I love to participate in public education. But so many reporters and others who are trying to write on these “opioid addiction” stories have not done the basic research.

How do we define “epidemic,” and is there a drug epidemic in this country? What do we actually know?

In epidemiological terms an epidemic is something that is rapidly rising and spreading. Opioid use is not rapidly widening. It’s not spreading. Something like heroin is always being used by a relatively low number of people. There have always been more cannabis smokers, cocaine users, Ecstasy users or the like.

Then we think about prescription opioids. The general narrative is to say those numbers have really increased. But in reality they have not. Then we have to add in the fact that they are legally available to people who use them appropriately and there are other people who take them for not legal reasons. Again, there is no epidemic of opioid use.

From black people, marijuana and “reefer madness” back in the 1950s and 1940s, to Chinese immigrants and “opium dens” where white women would be kidnapped and put in sex slavery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to crack in the 1980s and opioids today, there is a consistent moral panic around drugs in America. How does this influence our conversations about drug policy?

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Decent Men Don’t Do These Things

From The New York Times:

Sexual assault is excused as normal and forgivable. It’s not. Ask the women who’ve experienced it.

Theresa Brown
Sept. 24, 2018

I have a story. So many women do. Mine took place when I was 6 or 7 years old, I think. I wasn’t raped. People seem to always want to parse the details, so I’ll be clear about that. Two older boys, sons of friends of my parents, coerced me into letting them touch my genitals with theirs. They said they would give me money if I let them. When I balked, they called me chicken.

What’s disturbing is that it happened, and then I forgot it happened until I was 23 years old and remembered. I was living in New York at the time, lying on my bed, and the memory came into my mind, unbidden. I wish it had stayed away, because now I remember it all the time and don’t want to.

Some people will dismiss my story with one word: “Kids.” Others will say that I wasn’t violently assaulted, so no harm was done. And still others will question the reliability of a memory that left me for about 17 years and then came back and settled in, leaving a permanent scar on my peace of mind.

There are so many other stories, though. A girl I knew — I need to keep it vague — was raped by her boyfriend. She was 16, I think, and I was 15. She told me afterward that she told him to stop, but he wouldn’t stop. She said, “Theresa, it felt like he was raping me.” And here’s my failing. I didn’t know what to say. I thought strangers in dark alleys raped women, not men whom women actually knew.

Then there was my friend in college, who called out a guy in our dorm who was drunk and being loud. He responded by calling her a bitch and spraying her in the face with a fire extinguisher. She called the campus police and I watched as over the following few days the entire dorm turned against her. People said he was a good guy; he just got ugly when he drank.

And when I later argued that my friend’s assailant should be removed as a peer counselor since he had an obvious tendency toward violence, the student director of the program said nothing while studiously cleaning his fingernails.

Then there was the winter night when, as I rode my bike home from the hospital after a 12-hour nursing shift, a man standing by the curb exposed himself to me. It was dark out and cold, making the experience surreal. I wondered if it really happened, but I knew it did.

This is the world that women live in. A world where some men think it is O.K. to humiliate women, threaten women, assault women. A world where apologists for these men blame the women themselves for any sexual harms that befall them, and where the behavior of such men is even excused as normal. Except it isn’t normal.

How in the world would two boys, around 10 years old, get the idea to ensnare an even younger girl into a forced mock-up of prostitution? Who, when a woman says to stop during sex, instead hears “go?” What kind of person uses a fire extinguisher to silence another human being? Why would a man, on a cold winter’s night, display his penis to a tired nurse just wanting to get home?

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Kavanaugh is the Face of American Male Rage

From Medium:

Men are being held accountable — and it has them mad as hell

Jessica Valenti
Sep 28, 2018

It was the laughing, she said, that she couldn’t forget. Christine Blasey Ford, in testimony lauded on both sides of the political aisle as credible and moving, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27 that the amusement of her tormentors was the most lasting memory of the sexual attack she alleges Brett Kavanaugh committed in 1982.

“They were laughing with each other,” she said through tears, “two friends having a really good time with one another.”

A cruel irony of sexual assault and harassment is that the traumas which frequently determine the trajectory of women’s lives are just as often unremarkable to the men who have inflicted them.

This is why, I suspect, these men become so shocked and enraged when they’re asked to answer for their actions: When they say “nothing happened,” it’s not just a denial — it’s that they truly believe the incident was not a big deal.

Incredulous male rage has snowballed recently, rolling alongside the #MeToo movement at a steady pace and picking up steam over the last month. Men accused of being abusers are demanding back their coveted spots as comedians, writers, radio hosts and more. How dare women take them away to begin with!

Yesterday, Kavanaugh was the face of that backlash — an avatar for entitled, white male rage in the U.S. Angry, sputtering, petulant — the judge could barely contain his fury over being expected to answer for himself. As Slate’s Lili Loofbourow put it: “This person does not seem to have a lot of experience coping with not getting what he wants.”

Instead of responding to questions directly, Kavanaugh repeated his professional and academic bonafides as if his elite background was proof of good character. When Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked the judge about references in his high school yearbook about drinking to the point of vomiting, Kavanaugh responded, “I was at the top of my class academically.”

“Captain of the varsity basketball team,” he continued. “Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School.”

Don’t you know who I am?

When Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who prefaced her questions with anecdote about her own father’s alcoholism — asked Kavanaugh if he had ever blacked out, the judge snapped, “Have you?” Even after she repeated the question, once again Kavanaugh sneered: “I’m curious if you have.”

In that moment, it was not hard to imagine the belligerent, drunk Brett Kavanaugh as described by his former classmates.

Alexandra Schwartz at the New Yorker called this behavior “a model of American conservative masculinity…directly tied to the loutish, aggressive frat-boy persona that Kavanaugh is purportedly seeking to dissociate himself from.”

And, as is often the case with frat boys, Kavanaugh’s brothers had his back. One after another, the male Senators gave emotional apologies to the judge for even having to be there, bemoaning the loss of his life and reputation. Like Kavanaugh, they were appalled that the judge was expected to explain himself.

As if the possibility of him not ascending to the Supreme Court — and just continuing to serve on the second most important court in the country — would be a travesty. As if Kavanaugh was owed a smooth, unquestioned, path to whatever he wanted.

And with that, the hearing stopped being about Blasey Ford’s experience or even Kavanaugh’s fitness for the job, and instead became a stage for broader and bitter male resentment — furious over the seemingly new expectation of accountability, and raging over not immediately being given what was promised to them.

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Friday Night Fun and Culture: Songs that Somehow Seem Appropriate This Week

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My Reaction to the Kavanaugh Hearings || Mayim Bialik

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