Johann Hari is back and he's actually saying something sensible

But while Johann Hari is back and he is saying something sensible he's not, as so often, actually saying anything original. He's back with a book about drugs and the War on Drugs. This is not even remotely true:

Hari’s book turns out to be a page-turner, full of astonishing revelations. I had no idea that the war on drugs was single-handedly invented by a racist ex-prohibition agent, who needed to find a new problem big enough to protect his departmental budget. One of the first victims of his ambition was Billie Holiday, whose heroin addiction enraged him to the point where he hounded her to death. After he’d had the singer jailed for drugs, she was stripped of her performing licence, and as she unravelled into destitution and despair, his agents continued to harass her, even summoning a grand jury to indict her as she lay dying under police guard in a hospital bed.

That specific harrying of Billie Holiday might be, we don't know, but that's not the start of the War on Drugs by any means at all. As Chris Snowden has explained at book length the attempts to fight a War on Drugs begin long before Billie Holliday was being harrassed. Back to neat the turn into the Twentieth Century in fact.

However, this is true:

But something didn’t add up. “Every day, all over the world, hospital patients are given medical heroin, diamorphine, very often for long periods. And virtually none of them afterwards goes out and tries to score on the street. Which made me think, the issue here can’t just be the drug.”

Hari went to Vancouver to meet a psychology professor, Bruce Alexander, who had been similarly puzzled, so had replicated the original experiments. This time, instead of experimenting on solitary rats locked in empty cages, he offered the choice of clean or drugged water to rats kept in what he called Rat Park, a kind of rat heaven full of wheels and coloured balls and delicious food, and other rats to play and mate with. When these rats tried heroin, they weren’t very interested.

“They just didn’t like it. None of them overdosed. Even more strikingly, he then took rats that had become addicted in the isolated cages, and put them into Rat Park. And they almost immediately stopped using. What Alexander had found is that we’ve fundamentally misunderstood what addiction is. It isn’t a moral failing. It isn’t a disease. Addiction is an adaptation to your environment. It’s not you; it’s the cage you live in.”

It's not, however, remotely original. Much the same has been pointed out by Stanton Peele for some 40 years now. Most notably in pointing out that the vast majority of those American troops who used heroin in Vietnam came home and simply stopped using it, as various official reports have pointed out.

We'll have to wait for the book itself to see whether he properly attributes his sources, eh?