Why I Think We Need to Move Beyond “Harm Reduction”


I walked around the park grounds checking out the jubilant crowd of young partygoers. A gospel-sounding, organ-dominated groove played in the background. It was a familiar sound. I couldn’t name it; I also couldn’t ignore it. My attention, though, was being beckoned by one of the volunteers from The Loop. Excited, this kind bloke told me about the harm reduction services they were providing at the festival.

His huge handlebar moustache and crew cut evoked thoughts of Confederate soldiers, flags, monuments, the whole nine. For a southern Black person, this wasn’t a good first impression. But I knew this was my issue, not his, so I did my best to focus on anything other than his facial hair.

I checked out his gear. It was casual—red-rimmed bifocals, a tie-dyed T-shirt, and cargo shorts—and seemed incongruent with his hairstyle. In an attempt to reciprocate the kindness and respect he showed me, I tried to listen more attentively.

But it was difficult because a recording of Al Green’s 1972 classic, “Love and Happiness,” blasted from the sound system. “Something that can make you do wrong, make you do right,” Green sang with a great deal of sorrow combined with the rapture expressed by a true believer. His brilliant treatment of the anguish and joy that can result from being in love hit me like an amphetamine. 

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By Dr. Carl Hart

“Hart’s argument that we need to drastically revise our current view of illegal drugs is both powerful and timely . . . when it comes to the legacy of this country’s war on drugs, we should all share his outrage.” —The New York Times Book Review

Dr. Hart is the Ziff Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Columbia University, and a Research Scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Professor He has published numerous scientific and popular articles in the area of neuropsychopharmacology and is co-author of the textbook Drugs, Society and Human Behavior (with Charles Ksir). His book High Price was the 2014 winner of the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

Click on Dr. Carl Harts Picture to be directed by his Website.