Teaching Points—Preparing for “Addiction in American Life”

It’s that transitional time of the semester: even as final paper due dates are looming for the fall, spring book orders are coming (or past) due and new course preparation demands increasing attention. In this installment of “Teaching Points,” contributing editor Kyle Bridge shares his experience crafting a course in oral histories of addiction. 

I have long held academic interests in oral history and drug history—though I suppose around here the latter should go without saying. I also enjoy teaching, so I was thrilled to learn that in spring 2015 I will be co-teaching a course titled “Addiction in American Life” through the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP). Actually, the course theme changes each semester with the interests of rotating instructors, and the idea was conceived as I was allowed to pick the topic this time around. My students will be history undergrads completing internships through SPOHP; the addiction angle is a vehicle for teaching oral history techniques and methods.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Proving Cannabis – A History of Nineteenth Century Medical Marijuana

“During the month of September, 1862, I took Cannabis on various occasions,” confessed Dr. W. A. D. Pierce in the pages of American Journal of Homoeopathic Materia Medica and Record of Medical Science nearly a decade later. He did so “with the purpose of gaining, through the intoxicating influence of the drug, an insight into the phenomena of Somnambulism, Delirium and Mania, in connection with my researches in Psychology.” Pierce was not alone. Following the formal introduction of cannabis to American medicine in 1840, medical journals were filled with pages and articles recounting the self-administration and experimentation of physicians and their patients. Indeed, while autobiographical accounts of drug use like De Qunicy’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater or Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s The Hasheesh Eater: Being Passages from the Life of a Pythagorean often garner the most attention on the matter, medical doctors were often experimenters themselves – especially when it came to cannabis.

Personal experimentation with cannabis, like this one from Dr. Pierce, was common among physicians in the late nineteenth century.

Personal experimentation with cannabis, like this one from Dr. Pierce, was common among physicians in the late nineteenth century.

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You Are What You Drink: Wine, Women, and Identity

NOTE: Today’s post is by Points contributing editor Michelle McClellan.

A recent piece in The New York Times about the wine-drinking habits of powerful female characters on television made me recall wine coolers, sweet blends of wine and fruit flavors that were packaged like soda and beer in bottles for individual consumption.  Some readers may be too young to remember them—they were most popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. Looking back now, I realize that for those of us of a certain age, they could serve as a gateway drug, and not just because of their sweet, almost Kool-Aid-like flavors.  For young women who were too naïve and uncertain to know what wine or beer or cocktail to ask for, yet well beyond the era when we would expect or want a man to order for us, wine coolers were an easy and at that time at least, socially acceptable alternative—which is no doubt what the manufacturers intended.  By all accounts, women’s drinking has gotten more serious since then, and in more ways than one.


Seriously: wine coolers (Seagram’s Golden Wine Cooler advertisement)

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The Outbreak Narrative: What has changed this time around?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome past guest contributor, Jessica Diller Kovler (check out her previous post here). Kovler is part of the History of Science program at Harvard University and currently teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the City University of New York. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, and Discover magazines. 

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand for the past month, you’ve undoubtedly thought of the recent Ebola outbreak. Even if you have a background in public health, you would probably avoid the New York bowling alley visited by Dr. Craig Spencer (even though the City shut it down the day the news of his illness hit the papers). You’re probably using extra Purell, even though we’re relatively knowledgeable about the pathogen’s mode of transmission.

News reporters have scrambled to assemble our patient zero. Even our most liberal friends are arguing for shutting down the borders. We are blaming and looking for answers.

Bloomberg Buisnessweek, September 24, 2014

Bloomberg Buisnessweek, September 24, 2014

As my grandfather would ask at our Passover Seder: “Manishtana?” (What has changed?) As a social historian, I wonder what makes the societal response to Ebola any different than our collective response to the Black Death, typhoid, polio, and HIV? In the past few weeks, people have compared the response to Ebola to the first cholera pandemic of the early-19th century, the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, the polio epidemic of the first half of the 20th century, and AIDS in the early 1980s. Perhaps, as some have argued, there is a formulaic narrative in how we respond to outbreak of disease. But does this narrative also apply to epidemics involving alcohol abuse (or, in the case of the disease I’m about to describe, suspected alcohol abuse)?

From 1915 to 1927, a mysterious illness befell millions worldwide. Its symptoms were wide-ranging—no two patients presented exactly the same—and the illness left many of its survivors in a catatonic, semi-conscious state. Those who “awakened” were left with Parkinsonism, psychiatric sequelae, and severe behavior disturbance. Almost as quickly as Encephalitis Lethargica appeared in 1915, it seemingly vanished 12 years later. Thousands around the world, however, lived long past 1927, imprisoned—some for decades—in their own bodies. The lack of attention to this disorder beyond its peak, has, in recent years, earned the disease the moniker “The Forgotten Epidemic.” (Perhaps you’ve heard of the disease thanks to the 1990 Oscar-nominated film, Awakenings, starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, based on the work of Oliver Sacks.)

Yet the history of Encephalitis Lethargica is more than the tale of a forgotten epidemic. It is an illness narrative evoking shifting socio-medical paradigms in the second half of the 20th century that is uniquely tied to the sociomedical response to alcoholism.

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DEADLINE FOR PROPOSALS EXTENDED TO NOVEMBER 30, 2014! Borders, Boundaries & Contexts: Alcohol and Drugs History Society Conference

The deadline has been extended for papers and panel proposals for an international conference on the history of alcohol and drugs to be held at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, USA on June 18-21, 2015.  Panel proposals (3 x 20-minute papers) or individual papers (20 minutes) are invited.  We will also consider proposals for fringe sessions using non-conventional formats e.g. screenings, debates, demonstrations etc.

Borders, Boundaries and Contexts seeks to break down barriers in the historical study of drugs and alcohol, encouraging transnational approaches and methodologies that transcend the singular focus on alcohol or drugs.  The Program Committee invites proposals for individual papers and complete panels exploring how:

  • spaces, boundaries and borders – physical, legal, chronological, psychological, or ideological – have influenced the history of alcohol and drugs;
  • contexts, spatial or otherwise, have shaped the production, consumption, imagination, or regulation of alcohol and drugs;
  • particular “spaces” have defined eras, episodes, or issues in the history of alcohol and drugs.

Proposals from advanced graduate students and recent PhDs are particularly welcome, as are submissions on topics beyond North American and Europe, along with papers and panels that focus on periods before the modern era.

Send submissions to adhsconference2015@gmail.com by November 30th, 2014.

For further details, you can view the full CFP here.

The Points Interview: Joseph M. Gabriel

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome former contributing editor Joseph M. Gabriel, an associate professor of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine at Florida State University’s College of Medicine. Gabriel’s new book, Medical Monopoly: Intellectual Property Rights and the Origins of the Modern Pharmaceutical Industry (University of Chicago, 2014)  offers a sweeping new interpretation of the origins of the complex and often troubling relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and medical practice today.

gabriel-cover (1)Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Medical Monopoly tells the story of how it became ethically and scientifically acceptable for drug manufacturers to use patents and trademarks to protect their commercial interests. In the years before the Civil War, physicians, pharmacists, and respectable drug manufacturers all believed that the use of patents and trademarks corrupted science, harmed patients, and threatened the health of the public. This was partially because of the way patent and trademark law operated at the time, but it was also because they believed that restricting knowledge about drugs was contrary to the practice of good science. Physicians in particular were deeply critical of the use of patents and trademarks and considered them a form of quackery – for example, physicians could be driven out of the profession for prescribing patented medicines. Think about that! Can you imagine a physician getting drummed out of business for prescribing a patented drug today?


Anyway, as a result of all this, respectable drug manufacturers almost never patented or trademarked their products before about 1880. Given the highly competitive market at the time, however, this meant that they faced significant problems introducing new products in a commercially viable manner. Moreover, the medical community considered commercial innovation by drug manufacturers to be an unethical encroachment on their own therapeutic authority, and physicians loudly denounced manufacturers who introduced new products for profit as violating the norms of medical science. As a result, so-called ethical firms almost always sold only familiar goods that were manufactured according to established standards, and, like physicians and pharmacists, attacked those manufacturers who did use patents and trademarks as unethical quacks.

Following the Civil War, this all changed. The critique of intellectual property gradually gave way to a belief that patents and trademarks were a legitimate and even necessary part of scientific drug development. This transformation in ethical sensibilities was intertwined with important changes in patent and trademark law, efforts by therapeutic reformers to improve the drug market, and a number of other complex factors. It was also the result of efforts to reconcile the ethical norms of medical science with the need for commercial firms to successfully introduce new products to market in order to remain competitive – for example, I write a lot about a pharmacist and physician named Francis Stewart who worked closely with drug manufacturer Parke, Davis & Company in the 1880s and 1890s. Stewart argued that patents and trademarks, properly used, actually promoted medical science by allowing manufacturers to invest resources into the drug development process. The result of all this was that by about 1900 both physicians and pharmacists considered it acceptable to patent and trademark pharmaceuticals. They also accepted the fact that drug manufacturers had an important role to play in the development of new drugs, although they were not always happy about how this new role seemed to encroach on their own authority. This, in turn, allowed domestic manufacturers to innovate new products and to patent and trademark their goods without provoking the wrath of physicians, and by World War I domestic manufacturers had begun to cautiously embrace the use of intellectual property rights. Yet despite the new acceptance of patents and trademarks, many physicians and pharmacists continued to draw on the anti-monopoly tradition and remained critical of the impact of patents, trademarks, and other forms of intellectual property on medical science.

This is important because the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and medical practice today is highly strained. We obviously depend on the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture and develop new drugs, and at a basic level almost no one questions the right of manufacturers to patent their products or sell them under trademarked names. It just seems natural to us that manufacturers should earn a profit off of their efforts to develop new drugs. At the same time, however, there is a tremendous amount of debate about the appropriate extent of patent rights and about how patents and product branding, and promotional campaigns more broadly, shape the drug market. Debates about generic drugs are an important part of this, of course, and I talk about the origins of generic names extensively in the book. But there is also a growing recognition that the drug industry regularly engages in practices that clearly undermine medical science and even harm patients. It seems like every day there is another story in the newspapers about the industry acting badly, and in many of these cases the issues involved are directly related to patent and trademark concerns – the recent lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman against Forrest Laboratories for trying to maintain “an illegal monopoly” on the sale of an Alzheimer’s Drug is a good example. These issues are clearly very much alive today, and I hope that this book helps explain how we got to where we now are.
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New Feature: The Collected Points Interviews

The Points Interviews are some of our most popular posts. They’ve now been gathered together in the Points Library.

Organized by date with the most recent interview first, you can find all 59 (and counting!) interviews from January 2011 to today under “The Points Interviews” tab, available under “Points Library” in the masthead.

Happy reading!

Contextualizing the First Annual “We Agnostics and Free Thinkers” AA Convention, Nov 6-8, 2014

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by the venerable Trysh Travis, former Points managing editor.

A friend with a drinking problem has been going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings lately, and finding them not very helpful. “I can’t stand all the God talk,” she explained. She was raised in an Islamic country where God is routinely invoked—sometimes consciously, other times mechanistically—as a punitive, fearsome presence whose main purpose in the world seemed to be to limit the freedoms of women like herself. God was the last person she felt like turning to for help.

Before you go getting up on your Fox News soapbox and calling in more drone strikes in the name of an oppressed Third World Woman, let me just note that I’ve had American friends—Baptists, Catholics, and Jews—who had the same gripe with 12-Step culture. Twelve-Step recovery’s official posture may be that it is “spiritual, not religious,” but the niceties of that distinction may be lost on people for whom “God” is hot-button issue.

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Why Is Marijuana Illegal? A Historical View – Part Two

Why is marijuana illegal? Do a quick internet search and you’ll find a series of generally related answers: racism, fear, corporate profits, yellow journalism, ignorant and incompetent legislators, and bureaucratic preservation. Almost all of these are also tied to one man: Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930-1962. While these issues are critically important to consider, they help explain only portions of our nation’s marijuana prohibition story. Indeed, in part one of this series I examined the origins of cannabis regulations dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. These state level statutes demonstrate a clear, historical precedent for medicinal cannabis legislation in the United States, driven by the concerns of medical doctors and pharmacists seeking both their own professional authority and consumer protections in the marketplace. My objective is to suggest that these early developments demonstrate a far longer and more complex history of cannabis regulation than most existing versions of the story suggest, especially those readily available on the internet. It’s not that those internet versions of marijuana prohibition are entirely wrong; it’s that they often sustain a sensational narrative that misses critical components of this longer history and the original scholarship from which they are derived.


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Weimar Germany, Part 1: Intoxicating Metropolis

Today, as in all revolutionary times, when the existence of the individual trembles to the roots, when life and death are separated by a hair, the ecstasy of delirium and dance sprouts up as if in search of mass narcosis. – Carl Ludwig Schleich, Cocaineism, 1921

The Weimar Period has captured the popular imagination through musicals like Cabaret and films like Marlene Dietrich’s The Blue Angel. Often portrayed as a society dancing on a volcano, both the political right and left have used Weimar Germany’s permissive urban nightlife and debauchery as examples of either societal degeneration or as an open, “anything-goes” paradise. Jazz, cocaine, prostitution, and other forms of vice form one half of the Weimar stereotype: the other of course being runaway inflation, civil unrest, and the rise of Hitler.

Poster for the silent film "Laster der Menschheit" (Vice of Humanity), 1927.

Poster for the silent film “Laster der Menschheit” (Vice of Humanity), 1927.

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