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Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs Paperback – 28 Jan 2016
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A wonderful book ... I hope everyone will read it (Sam Harris)
An absolutely stunning book. It will blow your mind, and blow you away (Elton John)
Wonderful. I couldn't put it down (Noam Chomsky)
This book is as intoxicatingly thrilling as crack, without destroying your teeth (Russell Brand)
This book is, forgive the obvious phrase, screamingly addictive. The story it tells, jaw-droppingly horrific, hilarious and incredible, is one everyone should know: that is all true boggles the mind fascinated and infuriates by equal measure. Johann Hari, in brilliant prose, exposes one of the greatest and most harmful scandals of the past hundred years (Stephen Fry)
Breath-taking . A powerful contribution to an urgent debate (John Harris, Guardian)
A testament to Hari's skill as a writer (New York Times)
Superb journalism and thrilling story-telling (Naomi Klein)
Gripping (Financial Times)
One of the world's most important and most enlightening thinkers and social critics (Glenn Greenwald, winner of the Pulitzer Prize)
This shocking account of the War on Drugs and the alternatives to it is 'superb journalism and thrilling story-telling' - Naomi Klein, author of No Logo
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Hari begins his book by going right back to 1914: that was the year in which the prohibition of narcotics in the USA began. The man who kick-started the "War on Drugs" in the USA was a government official called Harry J. Anslinger. He convinced the politicians in North America that the only way to deal with the menace of recreation drug use was to ban all non-prescribed addictive substances and to arrest and severely punish anybody who sold or even consumed them. A century later, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent around the world pursuing these policies, which have all failed to prevent a massive increase in drugs consumption. Despite this failed approach, in the USA and most other parts of the world the War on Drugs continues unabated. It's total madness.
Hari's research for this book took him on an odyssey stretching tens of thousands of miles around the globe. From Canada, the USA and Mexico in North America, to Uruguay in the south, and then on to Switzerland, Portugal and Great Britain, Hari travelled huge distances in order to interview various people who have been involved in either the business of trying to prevent narcotics being trafficked and sold or people who's job it was to help treat addicts. He also visited a prison in Arizona that housed mainly drug addicts and observed how they were dealt with. His findings were both surprising and tragic.
The insane approach of the American authorities in jailing, freeing and then ostracising drug addicts is contrasted with the progressive policies of countries like Switzerland and Portugal, where addicts are helped to get treatment and then rehabilitated back into society. In Portugal all drugs have been decriminalised; this means that addicts can legally be given the drugs they need as part of a treatment programme. And it works. Hari also debunks the myth that decriminalisation leads to more illegal drug use: in Portugal heroin use HALVED after it was decriminalised. People will take narcotics whether or not they are illegal, Hari found; but the way to reduce drug abuse was through education and rehabilitation programmes, often involving prescribing the banned substances. The American alternative instead drove addicts into the arms of the unscrupulous criminal gangs, who would use and abuse them and often kill them with bad drugs.
Hari demonstrates just how horrendous the situation is in Mexico by telling the tragic tale of a mother who stands up to the drugs gangs there after her daughter is savagely murdered by a gang member. When the crooked police fail to act the mother decides to take matters into her own hands and challenges the gangs. She is brutally murdered for her courage. The entire country has been corrupted by the War on Drugs: the trade of illegal narcotics into the USA is so lucrative that anyone can be bought; and anyone who doesn't take bribes can just be killed off. Mexico is effectively a narco-state where the law-enforcement agencies are impudent against the might of the mega-rich drugs cartels.
The War on Drugs now has become one that is now driven not by practicality but by politics. It's obvious that many politicians now realise that decriminalisation and legalisation are now the way forward but are afraid to openly say so. They are terrified of their own voters. Trying to reverse decades-old entrenched mindsets and policies is going to be politically very difficult. Older people, both in the USA and Europe, still find it hard to accept that recreational drugs use is everywhere and is here to stay. Treating addicts as victims and driving out the criminals and criminality from the narcotics industry by legalisation is the only sensible and practical step to take now. Cowardly and intransigent politicians refuse to accept this approach.
This is a superb book and a must-read for anybody who cares about this subject.