Editor’s Note: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s coverage of the methamphetamine epidemic didn’t end with Breaking Bad. Here to comment on the history of meth epidemics is Nicholas Parsons, assistant professor of sociology at Eastern Connecticut University and author of Meth Mania (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2013).
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand
The book is about the social and cultural history of methamphetamine in the United States. There are two main themes the book takes up.
One of them is a history of the national media coverage of methamphetamine by major news magazines like Time and Newsweek, major newspapers like the New York Times, and television news broadcast by the three major networks. The second theme concerns changes in drug policy going back to the early 1900s, and how different drug laws have unintentionally and indirectly impacted the methamphetamine problem.
The book focuses on these two themes separately, but also examines the interplay between them. For example, the three major historical waves of national news attention towards methamphetamine (“Methedrine” from 1967-1971, “ice” in 1989, and “crystal meth” from 1995-2006) were all followed by legislative acts designed to deal with synthetic stimulant problems. I argue many of these policy changes have led to more harm than good. For instance, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 seems to have led to a decrease, albeit temporarily, in domestic “meth labs” where the drug is haphazardly manufactured. However, the black market for meth has evolved to meet the continuing demand, and what we’ve seen is a greater involvement of foreign suppliers, who are capable of producing more potent meth. Also, the relatively recent popularity of “bath salts” (i.e., synthetic cathinones) is likely due in part to the reduction of methamphetamine availability afforded by the 2005 law. When people cannot obtain meth, they will often replace their habit with more readily available stimulants.
I use the ebbs and flows of news attention to ask why meth has come to be defined as a social problem at different points in recent history. I also ask why there were points in our nation’s history when meth has not been in the national news to the extent that some might expect it would be. I find, for example, that in the early 1980s, methamphetamine use was at its highest level in this country, but the drug rarely made national headlines.
Editor’s Note: Today, Points features a guest post by Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History. (University of California Press, 2013). You can read the Points interview about the book here).
For historians of drugs, user perspectives are often frustratingly difficult to capture. Narcotics consumers generally leave behind few records in their own voice, forcing scholars to rely on the (frequently biased) perceptions of those who come into contact with them: law enforcement, doctors, social scientists, policymakers, etc. In the course of my research on narcotics in Japan and its empire from the 1850s through the 1950s, each of these groups provided critical information. My search for user-authored narratives, however, proved fruitless until virtually the last moment. In 2011, as I was preparing the penultimate draft of my book manuscript, I learned that a collection of documents, formerly inaccessible to scholars due to their poor condition, had been digitized and made available by the National Diet Library in Tokyo. To my delight, I found materials on the Drug Addiction Relief Association [Mayaku Kyūgokai], founded in 1933 as Japan’s first domestic facility for treating narcotics dependence. These sources not only enhanced my understanding of the history of addiction medicine, but also included about twenty life stories by patients, as recorded by doctors at the clinic in the mid-1930s.
Terada Shin (right) with Y. Masa (a fellow patient at the Narcotic Addiction Relief Association)
“How should he handle his alcoholic wife,” asks the lurid cover of the 1960 novel Alcoholic Wife by G.G. Revelle. “Beat her? Cater to her inflamed desires? Overlook her drunken intimacies with other men? Desert her for his seductive mistress?” With a retail price of 35 cents, the volume helpfully included a list of other Beacon Book titles that readers might enjoy, such as Footloose Fraulein and Trailer Tramp. Yet Alcoholic Wife was not just entertainment, but an examination of a growing social crisis, as the back cover promised: “This novel courageously tackles the problem of the drinking wife—today more common than ever before!”
Cover of novel Alcoholic Wife
Since the early 1970s, most Americans have been keenly aware of the effect foreign oil production and supply can have on the economy and national security interests of the United States. From the 1973 OAPEC embargo to the 1979 Iranian Revolution to more recent debates on the Keystone pipeline or Deepwater Horizon spill, the importance of “energy independence” has been a recurring theme for decades. But it may come as a surprise that similar rhetoric once surrounded a reliance on foreign hemp.
Father and son hold up a sign saying “Gas Stealers Beware, We’re Loaded…” during the 1973 Oil Crisis
(David Falconer, EPA, US National Archives)
“This pussy has teeth; no one should fuck me ever” — Margaret
I begin this post with exciting news: Slava Tsukerman and Anne Carlisle are collaborating on either a sequel to or a documentary about the making of Liquid Sky, the 1982 science fiction movie about Margaret, the new wave Edie Sedgewick-inspired club-hopping model who, assisted by her alien lover, kills with her cunt.
A summary is all but impossible, but here goes:
Unlike my previous posts, today’s entry focuses on the war as a whole rather than on a specific army. Tobacco was ubiquitous at the front and ever-present in prewar society. The war ushered in several changes to European smoking culture: Pipes began to fall out of fashion as cigarettes became more popular, and women smoked more in the postwar era as wartime social changes led to questioning of nineteenth-century gender norms. This is most famously embodied in the the “Flapper” archetype.
At the war’s outbreak, pipe smoking was the most common form of tobacco smoking in the militaries of Europe. Soldiers usually received packets of loose tobacco and matches with their rations. Pipe and cigar smoking were also associated with nineteenth-century ideas about masculinity. Cigarettes, although available, were not nearly as popular as pipes and cigars during this period. The war ushered in nothing short of a revolution in American and European tobacco cultures. It was also a period where modern cigarette advertising began.
Last week, I attended a panel discussion co-hosted by Texas Monthly and the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. The subject for debate was a recent article by Bill Martin, the director of the Institute’s Drug Policy Program. “War Without End,” published in the June edition of Texas Monthly, describes how Texas veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are successfully self-medicating for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with marijuana. (Trigger warning: their stories are not easy reading). The decision to opt for cannabis over the antidepressants, sleeping pills, or psychotropic medications commonly prescribed by Veterans Administration (VA) doctors makes these veterans criminals in the state of Texas. Although Governor Rick Perry recently said he plans to “implement policies that start us toward decriminalization,” the Texas Legislature hasn’t budged in recent years. Unlike Colorado or Washington, Texas does not have a ballot initiative or referendum process, so the Legislature is the state’s main route to reform. Majority support from the public and the best efforts of groups like the Marijuana Policy Project and local chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have, so far, come to naught.
Enter the veterans. Reformers believe Texas legislators will listen to war heroes, and state Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), a panelist at the Baker Institute event, seems to agree. Huffman told audience members that, in her opinion, a focused campaign for medical marijuana legislation for veterans diagnosed with PTSD would stand a better chance of success than broader initiatives aimed at population-wide medicalization, decriminalization, or legalization.
Photo illustration by Darren Braun for Texas Monthly
“When a guy has done four tours in Iraq, like some of our people, and been wounded in action, it’s hard to look him in the eye and call him a slacker pothead,” one veteran and activist told Texas Monthly. This new depiction of the traumatized veteran as uniquely deserving of marijuana does more than challenge the stoner stereotype. It recalls many of the psychological, symbolic, and treatment policy developments associated with the Iraq War’s most frequently cited historical analogue: the war in Vietnam.
Editor’s Note: This summer will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I’s outbreak. Today, contributing editor Nicholas K. Johnson brings us the second installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War. You can read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.
The German army’s experience with alcohol during World War I was more varied than that of their Allied counterparts on the Western Front. This was due in part to the strong degree of regionalism within the German Empire and its army. Units from Bavaria were much more likely to be issued beer as part of their daily ration than units from Prussia or the wine-producing regions of the Rhineland. The German home front also had to deal with food shortages due to the British naval blockade, which placed stresses on the alcohol industry due to an increasing demand for foodstuffs key to alcohol production such as potatoes, barley, and sugar. This shortage eventually affected those in the front lines.
This 1917 postcard advertises “fresh Löwenbräu in the field.”
When the German army invaded Belgium and France in August 1914, many soldiers took advantage of the opportunities these newly-conquered territories had to offer. Discipline in rear-echelon units was lax. Hermann Baumann, a baker in the VII Reserve Corps, recalled his unit discovering an “empty house” on September 4, 1914. The house contained 500 bottles of wine in the cellar. Half of his unit became drunk, and four men– including Baumann– took 30 bottles to carry with them during the advance towards Paris. (German supply units were horse-drawn; looting of this scale would have been impossible in the infantry). On September 8th, Baumann’s unit discovered a cellar with 15,000 liters of wine. He later recounts discovering the cellar full of wine barrels. His fellow bakers and supply train drivers tried several of the barrels until they “found something good.” They destroyed so many wine barrels during this search and the subsequent revelry that their boots turned red as they “waded through 20cm of wine” in the cellar.
Originally this post was going to summarize the arguments of two of the most prominent mid-century American intellectual historians and how they regarded changing notions of juvenile behavior as it involved the use of illegal drugs. But then I received something rather incredible in the mail that changed my idea for this post completely.
My husband’s parents live in northern New Jersey, and my mother-in-law was kind enough to send me an issue of their local newspaper, the Two River Times. In the May 23 edition, the letters to the editor section featured two very interesting, and two very oppositional, points of view vis-à-vis drugs and drug use. The letters, which dealt with marijuana legalization and the use of Narcan, an opioid antagonist that can reverse the effects of an overdose, respectively, were indicative of how far the social dialogue over drug use has come, as well as evidence of how pervasive certain myths remain.
Editor’s Note: This summer will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I’s outbreak. Today, contributing editor Nicholas K. Johnson brings us the third installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.
The experience of American soldiers and Marines with alcohol on the Western Front was fundamentally different than that of their allies from France, Belgium, and the British Commonwealth. Unlike the French and British armies, the men of the American Expeditionary Forces were not issued alcohol in the trenches. This would have been anathema to the powerful temperance movement on the home front. The temperance movement issued anti-alcohol propaganda during and after the war and connected it with the American cause. Behind the lines, YMCA camps offered “wholesome” entertainment for American troops free from alcohol and other vices. However, the temperance movement and YMCA ultimately failed to prevent American troops from consuming alcohol during the war.