High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society struck me as a rather disjointed book but the highly unusual and intriguing personal story carried it through. The two strands of the story are: the memoir of the author, who grew up in a Miami housing project and, of his own admission, ran with the wrong crowd, could easily have gone to prison, and fathered a son while in his teens before becoming a neuroscientist — and his manifesto that drug policy, based on the belief that addicts are helpless creatures, is as wrong-headed as the underlying theory.
The memoir is stunning. On paper, the author should be in prison, not working in a lab with a Ph.D. after his name. His salvation came in multiple steps, starting with his love of sports that made him lay off drugs and his love of hard work, patterned after his mother’s who certainly had issues but not that one, and the luck of being in the Air Force and able to experience postings overseas that showed him it was possible to get an education. It took him years, but he did it.
The author’s research with drug addicts shows that they are much more rational than most people think, and that rationality can be exploited in practical ways to reduce drug use without the ineffective and family- and society-crushing costs of keeping millions in jail. Unfortunately, the research and advocating is presented in a rather muddled and often shrill way, detracting from the message. Too bad, we could use some new ideas when it comes to working with addicts.