Book Talk: Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari

I use the library as resource to prevent my home from becoming more overrun with books than it already is. In recent weeks, I have come across articles or book reviews on Facebook that lead me to take four books out of the library. One such book is Chasing the Scream, The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari.

Hari, formerly a journalist at The Independent and winner of several journalism awards, uses his formidable skills to weave an elegant, sensitive story of the drug war starting with Henry Aslinger up through the more recent changes to drug laws in the states of Washington, Colorado, and California.

Hari takes you through the tale that reveals itself like the petals of a rose as it blooms in spring. Hari takes considerable care to treat everyone in this emotional, unfortunate saga with utmost compassion. When you hear how Henry Aslinger used his office to create a hysteria and drug laws that, in the end, create the black market for drugs that still dominates our streets, you hate him. You feel angry and you want to hate him and blame him.

But Hari doesn’t let you do that. He asks the reader to stop and have some compassion, even for the man who started so much unnecessary pain and death over the last century. Even Sergio, the Zeta gang member, who killed his girlfriend and was protected by both the gangs and the police from her justice-seeking mother, is written with compassion and, like this entire book, without judgment.

This book did more than educate me on how the drug laws create the black market; it showed me how much love, compassion, and connection that addicts need. They need support and stability. And yes, sometimes they need drugs to help them through, but what really is the issue with that?

Some people in this world have suffered tremendously in their lives. The people in this book went through ordeals that I cannot even imagine. Even the worst that has happened to me, frequent illness and hospitalizations, seem to be pale in comparison to the abuse and oppression that others have survived and, then, went  on to make something of their lives, despite – or maybe because of – their drug use.

Addicts use drugs, legal and otherwise, to deal with the pain. Why punish them for that? We, as a country, need to stop being afraid of things simply because we can imagine them  (rampant drug use and addiction) and build a system of support that will help addicts remain integrated into society. It does not to jail an addict if the person goes on to have no way to support themselves when they get out of jail.

And really, if alcohol can be regulated and taxed, then why can’t other drugs? Why can’t we regulate and ensure purity and tax the use of drugs? It could work.  We would have to have safe houses where addicts could go to get their drugs from a doctor, have access to counselors, and get information about how to stop using drugs. It’s been shown to work in Vancouver. It could work for us.

Few books make me fall in love with an author’s writing and the author himself. Johann Hari’s book was one of those few. I love the storytelling and Hari’s seemingly limitless and compassion and lack of judgment towards all the people in this tale, but for himself as well.


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