Chasing the Scream

Amy Lieberman
Class of 2017

As long as I can remember, I’ve always felt that drug prohibition was a failure. However, I have to admit that I’ve always had to repress a sinking feeling that drug use is wrong, and that addiction is some sort of flaw. I’ve always felt guilty about this, especially considering my own experiences and the experiences of family and friends. But I could never quite shake the feeling that addicts were different from me, and that no matter how fun drugs were, they were bad. This is the lie we’ve been fed – it’s the indoctrination that began in America only 100 years ago and has taken over the world – and it’s the lie that “Chasing the Scream” seeks to expose.

The book reads something like a diary, following a personal journey of someone like me—directly affected by addiction and desperate to understand why this happened. Seeking to understand both the War on Drugs and his own feelings, author Johann Hari undertakes a journey around the globe to witness firsthand the failures and successes of the drug war. Some passages veer too close to poetry, somewhat detracting from the devastating, cold hard facts about the drug war that strike the reader and inspire action. But ultimately, the book delivers its message.

“Chasing the Scream” is the story of one man’s crusade to stop drug use from continuing to bloom into a worldwide epidemic of misunderstanding and punishment. From talking to drug dealers in the Bronx, inmates in Arizona, teens in Texas, social workers and researchers in Vancouver, and politicians in Portugal and Uruguay, to telling the history of drug use and prohibition through narrative tales of the major players involved, the book does meander a bit. Ultimately, though, Hari’s journey convinces him, and the reader, that what is needed to combat addiction is less restriction and more knowledge. Hari continually admits that he has his doubts about what the end of the drug war might bring, but he finds a single answer to every question he encounters: less law and more love.

Any argument you can think of against drug legalization is included in the book. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how we got to the place we are now and how we can heal these drug war-induced wounds. Additionally, if you are interested in advocacy, “Chasing the Scream” will introduce you to some of today’s major players in the anti-drug war movement (Fun fact: After an airplane ride in which I read the chapter on Leigh Maddox – Baltimore police officer turned Law Enforcement Against Prohibition activist – I met her at a conference in D.C.!).

I hope those of you with questions about what Students for Sensible Drug Policy and other organizations are striving for will ask them. If you’re interested in drug policy, this book is a good place to start. We’ve all been told lies that have caused uncountable miscarriages of justice, and it’s time we try to reel in the monster that America created. But it’s up to each of us to make the first move.

“Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” by Johann Hari, Bloomsbury USA, January 2015. Available at