Summarized from the book: Chasing the Scream, by Johann Hari

I know we have all heard stories about someone getting high on some sort of drug (cocaine, bath salts, Xanax, etc.) and gunning down their family, but this isn’t very common. In fact, just last week I was in a class full of 7th graders, and one of them had to tell me a story he heard about a person who did cocaine one time and killed his whole family.  Not to minimize the negative effects of drugs,  these are very extreme cases,  and are most often sensationalized by the media.  Furthermore, I would say that the drug most likely to induce violence is actually alcohol not “illicit drugs”.  Contrary to popular belief most of the violence and death related to drug abuse is connected to obtaining the drug NOT THE EFFECTS OF THE DRUG.

All the fear that’s generated by these stories fuels our intent on stopping the drug problem. That’s all well and good but unfortunately, WE ARE GOING ABOUT IT ALL WRONG.  The problem is that we are engaging in a war on drugs, when drugs aren’t the problem.  ADDICTION IS THE PROBLEM, and addiction isn’t caused by drugs.  Essentially I’m saying, we are fighting the wrong enemy.  Not only are we putting our energy in the wrong direction, we are SERIOUSLY EXACERBATING THE PROBLEM! Allow me to explain.

The big deal right now, and a huge crisis, is addiction to pain pills and heroin overdose.  Before that meth was the big headline, and before that everyone was up in arms about the crack problem.  Drug related death is the number one cause of death for young people in America (more than car accidents), so I am very glad that people are paying attention to the problem.  However, fear is driving us to make ineffectual decisions about how to stop the crisis. Generally, we have focused on controlling doctors ability to prescribe medications, and trying to stop drugs from entering the country, and locking up drug dealers.  It sounds like a good plan, but there are some inherent flaws here.

1.     Every time you arrest one drug dealer, three more pop up in their place.  Just because you put a dealer in jail, it doesn’t stop drug addicts from needing the drug.  It just opens up the market for drug dealing.

2.     Addiction fuels dealing!  It’s pretty much like a pyramid scheme.  Almost every person I know that does drugs, also sells drugs (in order to be able to afford the drugs).  Which means, that they need to get more people to do drugs so they can make money.  This keeps a constant flow of new customers.

3.     Controlling prescriptions doesn’t limit the number of people who get addicted to drugs, it only sends drug dependent people to the streets to get the drug. This is where the problem really starts to get worse.  Pain pills cost upwards of $30 a piece on the street. This quickly turns into a financial crisis.  The individual then starts to steal to be able to pay for the drug, and eventually, they also start to sell drugs to pay for their own opiate dependency.

4.     Every since the cocaine crisis of the 80’s we have been trying to fight this “war on drugs”.  Despite the millions of dollars being spent every year on the “war on drugs”, the problem continues to progress.

5.     Because there is a huge demand for mood altering chemicals, there will always be drug dealers. And because drug dealing isn’t a legitimate business, the only way for a dealer to protect his profits is by violence and fear.  In every other type of business there are rules and governance to make sure the people stay ethical.  Drug dealers have no other way to protect “their business” other than violence.  They have to create extreme fear so that others don’t encroach on their territory.


Why Putting Dealers in Prison Doesn’t Work Either!

You might think that’s the best way to get drugs off the street, but you’d be wrong!  Here’s how that actually plays out.

1.      Every time you lock-up a dealer, three more jump in to fill their place (because the demand doesn’t go away, just because the dealer does).

2.     For the most part, low level dealers are just “addicted individuals” who are dealing so they can support their habit.  The only other way to support their habit is prostitution or stealing.

3.     Chances are that you are locking up someone’s mother, father, or child.  What do you think happens to the children of the people in prison.  THEY BECOME ADDICTS AND DEALERS THEMSELVES, and their children become dealers and addicts as well!

4.     After they get released from prison, they can’t get decent jobs because they have a criminal record, which means they are often pushed back into the same life style to support themselves.  People don’t want to hire drug dealers and thieves.  Once you have a black mark on your record you can’t get a decent paying job or even get into a university.

5.     Stress and isolation are the key factors that fuel addiction.  I’m going to guess that going to prison is one of the most stressful and isolating situations a person can experience.


Consequences don’t cure addiction.  The very definition of addiction is “continues to engage in a behavior DESPITE consequences.”  So, not only does prison not cure people, it makes everything about 100x worse.

So, if we know that putting addicts in prison isn’t the answer, then what is the answer?

The answer is figuring out how to lower the demand not the supply. As long as there is a high demand for mood altering chemicals, THERE WILL BE A SUPPLY.

Drugs do not cause addiction! Underlying mental health disorders, grief, stress, and trauma cause addiction.  For way too long we have been focusing on the symptom and doing very little to address the problem.


This is a summery of information from the book Chasing the Scream, which I would recommend for anyone who is interested in the topic of addiction.  It gives an eye opening account of the war on drugs and points out many ways in which our laws regarding drugs are only making the problem worse.


You can buy this book from Amazon by clicking this link: