It is believed to turn people into animals that would do anything for a fix, but pioneering drug researcher Dr. Carl Hart of Columbia University in New York has found that crack addicts can be perfectly rational.
Offering $950 to volunteers in a multi-week work trial, Hart found that when given a choice between immediate crack and money or store vouchers in future, the subjects rejected the rock.
Metro: That seems like a lot of money. Were you worried about appearing to fund a dangerous habit?
Hart: I was worried about perceptions but we had to pay people for their time. It worked out at barely minimum wage and anything less would be taking advantage – we have to treat people like adults. We did follow-up measures after the studies and in most cases they showed decreased use.
Did you get a stampede of applicants after posting the advert?
Not as popular as you would think. Being identified as a crack user is one heck of a stigma, so it was just a select group that applied.
How demanding were the tests you gave them?
The model was what happens in the workplace, so it was tasks that were not very difficult but required concentration – otherwise you would make mistakes. They would have to track objects while also paying attention to a screen over long hours.
Did you notice much improvement over the trial?
Over time they would get better from practice, and reached a level of stable performance throughout participation. But it would be an exaggeration to say their skills got a lot better.
If addicts can think long-term, do you feel the common representation that they cannot contributes to their problem?
Yes, it plays a role; many of us behave in the ways we are expected to.
What is the biggest misconception about crack addiction?
That you are instantly addicted – which is simply not true; this also applies to other drugs. But as the myth is so entrenched, it's difficult to get people to look at the data.