Columbia University Neuroscientist’s Book Blends Personal History with Leading Addiction Science and Alternatives to Counterproductive Drug Policies
July 30, 2014 — High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society (HarperCollins, 2013), the groundbreaking memoir/big science book written by neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University, Dr. Carl Hart, won the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, the organization announced this morning.
At the time of the announcement, the author and professor was in Zurich studying how that nation balances social justice drug policy. “I am deeply honored and humbled to have been awarded the prestigious PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award,” said Dr. Hart. “I recognize that High Price outlines many uncomfortable ideas and facts about topics we'd rather avoid such as race, poverty, and drugs. So, I am particularly grateful to the award selection committee, to everyone who has read High Price, to those who have interviewed me about High Price, and to many people who have sent me their personal stories or letters of support.”
In the clearest possible terms, the author, who is a board member of Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization promoting alternatives to current drug policies, not only demonstrates through hard physical science and clear social analysis that what plagued poor communities during the 1990s was less about crack-cocaine, than it was about unemployment, racism and hopelessness; but that all drug use is not, in fact, problematic. The scientist notes that 80-90 percent of those who choose do use drugs, do so non-problematically. Their problem, rather, is our criminalization and stigmatization of that population.
Indeed, PEN’s judges, in making the award, noted that, “The lifetime of research that is the foundation for High Price stretches from the streets of Miami’s hood to the labs of Columbia University. In drawing on such a broad range of resources, neuroscientist Carl Hart demonstrates how personal experience and scientific study can inform and validate each other for a deeper understanding of human behavior and addiction. Dr. Hart’s unflinching view of his past, along with his rigorous academic inquiry, make for a document of innovative thinking and profound humanity. Written with clarity, honesty, and courage, High Price offers a compelling argument to reconsider this country’s policies on drug use, which have proved so ineffective not only from a legal standpoint, but from medical and social perspectives as well.”
“High Price is my public education effort to combat drug myths, bad drug policy, and to help keep people safe,” Hart continued. “Millions of people languish unnecessarily in jails and prisons largely, and still others needlessly die from preventable overdoses, underground market violence and police interactions, due to a misguided approach to drug regulations. And no one suffers more than African American men and the poor.”
The PEN Literary Awards are the most comprehensive in the United States. Each year, with the help of its partners and supporters, PEN confers more than $150,000 to writers in the fields of fiction, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, translation, drama, or poetry.