More Dispatches From Buffalo: Addiction Analytics

Editors’ Note: We’re grateful to guest blogger Michael Durfee for adding to our ADHS conference reporting.  Below is the first of three very insightful panel reviews he’s prepared.  Michael is currently a doctoral candidate in History at SUNY Buffalo.  He’s working on a dissertation that examines crack-era drug reform, racial conservatism, the state of race and police/resident relations in New York City, the emergence of hip-hop culture as a counter-narrative, and the politics of symbolism under the Reagan administration.  At the Buffalo meeting, Michael presented a paper (“Len Bias and the Poltiics of the 1980s ‘Crack’ Panic”) which he’ll mention in the third and final of his reports.

Addiction Analytics

David Courtwright began the afternoon by posing a fundamental question:  Has the Internet exacerbated extant addiction?   For Courtwright, the tentative answer appears to be an emphatic yes.  In order to prove his case, Courtwright first points to what he refers to as  “Limbic Capitalism”: The production, marketing, and distribution of goods and services that stimulate pleasure and emotional responses in the limbic region of the brain (gambling, junk food, internet addiction, etc.).  Behaviors elicited by limbic capitalism take on characteristics of addiction and addictive behavior.  Those of us with relatives or friends who spend ample time on social networking sites like facebook, or play Xbox into the early morning hours know all too well how this type of behavior mirrors that of someone, say, hooked on smack.Read More »

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A Dispatch from Buffalo: Session H1 – Drugs and the City

As readers of this blog know, many of us recently convened in Buffalo for the 6th Biennial Meeting of the Alcohol and Drug History Society. Overall the conference was a great event, and I enjoyed myself tremendously – thanks to organizer David Herzberg for the all work and love that obviously went into it. One of the many fascinating sessions at the conference was one on “Drugs and the City,” which consisted of three presenters speaking about how race, politics, and geography are intertwined with both patterns of consumption and efforts at regulation and treatment. The editors of this blog asked me to write a brief review of the session, which I present below.Read More »

The Points Interview: Dan Weimer

Sliding into the lucky thirteenth installment of the Points Interview is Dan Weimer, author of Seeing Drugs: Modernization, Counterinsurgency, and U.S. Narcotics Control in the Third World, 1969–1976 (Kent State University Press, 2011).  Dan is on the faculty of Wheeling Jesuit University–you can find out more about him here, and much more about the book here.  The book is essential reading for anyone interested in the development of the American global drug war, and I’d encourage Points readers to check it out.  (NB: Read to the end of the interview–I think Dan’s made the best voice-over nomination to date.)

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

I use this type of question on my students a lot (though I substitute “grandmother” for “mother”) and I understand why they dislike it; but here goes…

For the Nixon administration, and its successor the Ford administration, a crucial component of decreasing drug use in the United States was to limit or stop the production of illegal drugs (particularly heroin) in the nations that cultivated or refined drug crops (specifically opium). My book explores how Thailand, Burma, and Mexico were deemed the key opium and heroin producing and trafficking nations during the early and mid-1970s and how the United States, in conjunction with the United Nations and the Thai, Burmese, and Mexican governments, tried to halt drug trafficking and production in those countries. I explain why the United States relied upon modernization and counterinsurgency theory to solve the “drug problem.” (Admittedly, it would take me a bit of time to explain these theories to mom.) Essentially, American officials believed that if we could defeat insurgents connected to opium trafficking in Burma (rather than preemptively purchase the illicit opium harvest), modernize opium farmers in Thailand (i.e. help them to grow other crops), and destroy drug crops through the most efficient means (using aerial herbicides in Mexico), then a big part of the “drug problem” would be solved. In the long run, this drug war “solution” produced two effects. One, the Nixon and Ford administrations set the parameters of subsequent drug control policy abroad. Two, despite the United States’ failure in the Vietnam War and U.S. public skepticism over American meddling across the globe, the drug war guaranteed continued U.S. intervention in the Third World.Read More »

Keller’s Reticence: A Note on the Perils of Insider Historiography

Mark Keller

Mark Keller (1907-1995) was the long-time editor and editor emeritus of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.(1)  His career in alcohol studies stretched all the way back to the 1930s, when he worked for Norman Jolliffe at Bellevue Hospital as a general-purpose research assistant and sometime editor.  Over the years Keller published a number of accounts of the genesis of “the new scientific approach” to alcohol problems in the mid- and late-1930s in the U.S.(2)  (I had the honor to attend a talk given by Keller on this topic at the Alcohol Research Group in Berkeley on February 13, 1978 — which presentation was later the basis for his 1979 article on this history [see 2].)  Keller’s accounts drew in part upon what he himself had witnessed as well as what Jolliffe passed along to him.  On a personal level, Keller always made his kind and generous scholarly help freely available to me.  In time, however, I came to appreciate one or two of the pitfalls of Keller’s essentially personal-reminiscence approach to this history.Read More »

Bound by Law? Questioning the “Lobster Trap” of the Controlled Substances Act

In her fourth in a six-post series for Points, Siobhan Reynolds reviews the policies and judicial precedents that leave doctors unwilling to prescribe opioids to patients in pain. Reynolds focuses in particular on how federal control of the medical profession undermines the political structure of the United States and the opportunities for freedom and experimentation federalism provides.

In an earlier blog post I suggested that I would explain the reasons why physicians are loath to treat pain with opioids despite their noted efficacy; I’ve mentioned that medical professionals don’t like to admit that they are afraid to prescribe these medicines, preferring instead dole  out far more dangerous non-controlled drugs on the grounds that opioids are “bad” in some special way having nothing to do with their actual utility or safety profile. In this post, I will examine how the profession developed such a seemingly irrational blind spot where opioids are concerned. This blind spot has its roots in the interpretation and enforcement of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 and the more recent Controlled Substances Act (initially passed in 1970).

Years ago, when I sat at my computer in my kitchen in New York City, wondering how in the world it was that doctors simply refused to effectively manage their patients’ pain, I researched the law myself.Read More »

Glimpses of Blythewood

Photo of Blythewood captioned "OCCUPATIONAL DEPARTMENT" Courtesy Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich (Connecticut)

Mrs. Marty Mann reportedly spent over a year as a patient at Blythewood Sanitarium in Greenwich, Connecticut.  According to Sally Brown and David R. Brown’s biography – although sources differ on this point – Mann was admitted to Blythewood at the end of June in 1938 and discharged in September of 1939.(1)  It was at Blythewood that Mann, under the care of Dr. Harry Tiebout, was introduced, via a pre-publication multilith copy of “The Big Book,” to Alcoholics Anonymous. Read More »

Your Buffalo Bill of Fare

We’ve been noting for a while now the upcoming conference, Pub, Street and Medicine Cabinet, otherwise known as the 6th International Conference on the History of Alcohol and Drugs.  It begins one week from today (the evening of Thursday, June 23) at the University of Buffalo (SUNY).  If you’re within easy range of Buffalo, you might consider attending the meeting–with roughly forty panels spread out over several days, you’ll be hearing some of the best in historical work on drugs and alcohol.  If you’re not within easy range of Buffalo, then stay tuned to the Points blog.  You’ll get a glimpse of the newest work in the field from our crack (no pun intended) team of bloggers posting reports from various meeting panels, representing a fair cross-section of the conference activity.  So join us in Buffalo, or follow along at home!

Warring Cultural Icons? Addiction and Mental Illness as Brain Diseases

Points readers packing for the big Alcohol and Drugs History Conference next week will want to take a break from stuffing their toiletries into quart-size ziploc bags in order to welcome Guest Blogger Stanton Peele, psychologist, author, and principled opponent of the addiction-is-disease industry.  Peele is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Addiction and Recovery, The Diseasing of America and Addiction-Proof Your Child; he blogs at Stanton’s Blog. Below, he trains his incisive gaze on two recent print media discussions of brain chemistry, mental illness, and addiction.

The two primary (New York) intellectual organs, the New York Review of Books and New York Times, have recently featured two powerful cultural icons saying exactly opposite things about  prescription pharmaceuticals and “brain disease.”

The New York Media Wants a Piece of Points' Action

In an ongoing two-part series in the NYRB (part 1 is in the June 23rd issue), Marcia Angell, the first woman editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and now at the Harvard Medical School, argues against the firmly ensconced American view that mental illness can be–it has been–resolved to brain functioning.  The Times, for its part, once again supports the slightly-more-come-lately view of addiction as a brain disease with a profile of Nora Volkow, the visionary director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Angell has fought her way to cultural icon status by combating the medical-pharmaceutical-industrial complex, Read More »

The Points Interview: James Nicholls

For the twelfth installment of the Points Interview we revisit alcohol (one of the psychoactive “Big Three”, to use David Courtwright’s term), and a marvelous account of England’s long public debate over the place of drinking in the social order. James NichollsThe Politics of Alcohol: A History of the Drink Question in England (Manchester University Press, 2009) is a well-reviewed and ambitious study set to appear this August in a paperback edition, and we’re grateful to James for taking a moment to answer a few questions.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.
The Politics of Alcohol is my attempt at a long history of public debates around drinking in The Politics of Alcohol CoverEngland. It’s about how drinking has been talked about, policed, worried over and legislated for. The first proper Licensing Act was passed in England in 1552, and the most recent was 2003 – so that seemed like a good way of bookending the study. At least, it seemed like a good idea at the start: five hundred years turned out to be a long time.

What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
For me, what is most interesting is the way that debates on how to regulate alcohol have always been thinly veiled debates over the nature of freedom. I try to show how changing ideas about social rights, markets freedoms, personal responsibility and state intervention have underpinned concerns about both the nature of the risks associated with alcohol and the best way to regulate its use. Read More »

What Drug War Anniversary?

A few days ago, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow commemorated the “40th anniversary of one of the biggest, most expensive, most destructive social policy experiments in American history: The war on drugs.”  The Times column wasn’t exactly delivering anniversary best wishes.  Instead, Blow charged the 40-year old drug war with being “an unmitigated disaster, an abomination of justice and a self-perpetuating, trillion-dollar economy of wasted human capital, ruined lives and decimated communities.”  Unhappy anniversary.

But is the drug war really turning forty this week?  Charles Blow sets the date by Richard Nixon’s June 17, 1971 declaration: “America’s public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse.  In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.  I have asked the Congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of offensive.  This will be a worldwide offensive dealing with the problems of supply, as well as Americans who may be stationed abroad, wherever they are in the world.”

Who says this marks the “start” of the drug war?  The “40th anniversary” idea seems to have begun with a widely circulated Huffington Post column from Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann, which used the same Nixon speech as the symbolic/real starting point of the drug war.  Interestingly enough, Charles Blow’s NYT op-ed colleague, Nicholas Kristof, celebrated the 40th anniversary of the drug war two years ago.  His June 13, 2009 column began: “This year marks the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s start of the war on drugs, and it now appears that drugs have won.”  It is worth pointing out that 2011 features a rival drug war anniversary commemoration—the 50th anniversary of the global drug war, using the enactment of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) as the starting point.

If you’re undecided, here is a menu of American drug war anniversary options for 2011:Read More »