Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998

Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice

Craig Reinarman and Harry G. Levine (editors)
University of California Press: Berkeley, CA
0 520 20242 2 (pb); 0 520 20241 4 (hb)
£13.95; £35.00 (hb)
xvi + 390 pp.

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Crack in America, an edited collected by Craig Reinarnman and Harry Levine, is informed and underpinned by Norman Zinberg's (1984) classic book Drug, Set, and Setting. Zinberg suggests that the effects drugs have on the human body can be understood by the type of substance, the psychological mind set of the user and the social setting of use. Throughout, Crack in America considers the use of the drug from wider structural perspectives as well as including personal accounts from the people who use it.

The book consists of seventeen chapters and an epilogue. It begins with two introductory chapters that provide a comprehensive overview of crack use in the United States. These cover some of the political and media debates that surround crack use and include a history of the drug and its culture. The book is then split into four parts.

Part one entitled 'Myths and Realities' contains five chapters. Three chapters draw on empirical research to examine the culture and lifestyles of crack users; patterns of crack use among heavy cocaine smokers; and the biographies of two women who used crack. The next chapter looks at the connections between crack, crime and violence. The focus shifts in the final chapter of this part to discuss the social pharmacology of crack use.

Some of the issues addressed in part one are followed up in part two 'Crack in Comparable Societies'. Three chapters in this part examine the nature, extent and policy responses to crack use in Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands.

In part three, 'The Price of Repression', the costs and consequences of America's 'zero tolerance' drug policies are explored. Two chapters focus on the effect policies have on pregnant women and African-Americans. Two further chapters explore the effect of these policies on civil liberties and the costs, consequences and alternatives to drug prohibition.

Part four, 'From Punitive Prohibition to Harm Reduction', draws together some of the earlier arguments made in the book highlighting the implications for alternative harm reduction policies. These chapters discuss the criminalisation of drug use; the problems future prohibition policies will face in maintaining legitimacy; and point to harm reduction policies as the way forward for future drug policies. An epilogue, 'We've been here before', contains excerpts from a 1967 Task Force Report on Drugs and demonstrates that these debates are by no means new and are often repeated over time.

A key feature of this collection is its use of 'drug, set and setting' to understand crack use. It is perhaps at its weakest in failing to consider fully perspectives from the 'other side' of harm reduction. It is, nevertheless, an important book located at the interface between sociology and social policy that will provide a valuable international resource of interest to academics and practitioners working in the field.

Rhidian Hughes
University of York


ZINBERG, Norman, E. (1984) Drug, Set and Setting: The Basis for Controlled Intoxicant Use. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998