Who Bought Whom? Revisiting “Bowman’s Compromise”

As I reported in my 1991 dissertation,(1) the fledgling Research Council on Problems of Alcohol voted to narrow its future scientific attentions to studies of alcoholism only in the autumn of 1939.  Future Council research on other alcohol-related topics, including possible new studies of alcohol’s effects on the human organism or society, would henceforth be substantially de-emphasized or postponed.(2)  Karl M. Bowman, chairman of the Council’s Executive Committee, suggested this shift of research focus in a September 7, 1939 letter to the Council’s Scientific Committee.   Members were also sent a two-page report vigorously advocating the newly proposed policy, prepared by a Special Committee on Financial Policy.

Ray Lyman Wilbur, Feb. 10, 1930

I found these two documents – Bowman’s letter and the financial committee’s two-page report — in boxes of Ray Lyman Wilbur’s archived files on the Research Council of Problems of Alcohol at Stanford University’s Lane Medical Library in (if memory serves) October, 1990, as I was researching my dissertation.  It was a very lucky find.  My dissertation’s burning question was:  How had the nation’s new focus on the problem of alcoholism (and the subsequent development of the modern alcoholism movement) emerged from the ashes of national prohibition in the early post-Repeal period?  Both Mark Keller’s and Bruce Holley Johnson’s previous accounts of this early period had highlighted the important role of the Research Council on Problems of Alcohol.(3)  Yet neither author had addressed the question of why the Council’s large and prestigious body of American scientists took so keen an interest in alcoholism.  I was rummaging through Ray Lyman Wilbur’s old Council files trying to shed light on the matter. Read More »


Gospel Sobriety: Before and After

In his last (for now, anyway) offering as a Points guest blogger, Eoin Cannon offers some thoughts on the aesthetics of redemption.

Noontime Prayer on Fulton Street, 1857

In my book-in-progress on the origins of modern recovery narrative, I look closely at the stories that came out of the post-Civil War “gospel rescue missions,” especially in New York City. These weren’t the first evangelical missions to the urban poor, of course. Specifically, they were outgrowths of similar activity during the Second Great Awakening, such as the New York City revival of 1857-58. Nor did they represent the first movement of reformed drunkards with tales to tell, emerging a couple of decades after the heyday of the Washingtonian Society. But, founded by the converts themselves in collaboration with their religious sponsors, the postbellum rescue missions combined revival, temperance, and moral reform in an unprecedented and very influential way. They moved evangelical religion in a therapeutic direction, and they acted as rebuttals to fatalistic social theory. Their growth drew social reformers to the slums to witness first-hand evidence that the far-gone drunkard and the vicious immigrant really could be changed. By the 1890s, the ex-drunkards and their patrons had produced a lively literature of conversion narratives.

The published narratives were occasionally accompanied by a fascinating before-and-after imagery. Read More »

Alcoholism, Race, and Decolonization

In the June 1958 issue of the Nchanga Drum, Dominico Chansa, a social welfare worker on the Northern Rhodesian (Zambian) Copperbelt, asked readers the question, “Is Beer Drinking a Good or Bad Habit?”

Zambia and the Copperbelt

 The author claimed that there was “no subject on the Copperbelt today which draws more heated debate”—a surprising yet surprisingly accurate assertion.  Surprising because this was a period of rapid and sometimes violent political change that would culminate in Zambia’s independence from Britain in 1964, and the question of who would rule was by no means settled.  Surprisingly accurate, because the local press and official and corporate records are filled with discussion and debate over alcohol use and regulation (Zambia’s reputation would make it one of the case studies in the well-known WHO cross cultural study of alcohol use from the 1970s).  Writers on this blog have focused a great deal recently on addiction and disease models—to stimulating effect.  Yet I have been struck with just how Eurocentric these debates appear to be.  Today’s post updates Mr. Chansa’s question, asking “was beer drinking a habit in colonial Zambia?”Read More »

The Points Interview: Diana L. Ahmad

For our eleventh Points Interview, we do something new–take our first visit to opium in historical scholarship.  We’re pleased to do it through an interview with Diana L. Ahmad, whose book The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws in the Nineteenth-Century American West (University of Nevada Press) has just appeared in a new paperback edition.  The Opium Debate explains the extent to which the response to smoking-opium/opium smoking influenced the policy world of Chinese exclusion–and does so in a very carefully researched study.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-Diana Ahmad, The Opium Debatestreet) could understand.

When people think of the Chinese in the nineteenth-century American West, they often visualize a man with a long queue wearing traditional clothing working as a cook and housekeeper, like Hop Sing in Bonanza.  Others might think of Chinese launderers in the mining towns or laborers building railroads, such as the Central Pacific.  The thousands of Chinese men who moved to the United States came as sojourners with little intention of remaining in the country. Instead, they hoped to earn enough money to help their families economically, and then return home.  As a result, few Chinese women accompanied the workers to Gam Saan (Gold Mountain or San Francisco).  With the lack of Chinese women available to form families in the West, a few of the men occupied their time in vice activities, such as gambling (games akin to lotteries), Chinese prostitution, or smoking opium.  It must be remembered that FEW of the men smoked opium, but that did not matter to the Anglo-Americans who noticed that the “sporting classes” of whites began to visit the opium dens in Chinatown by the 1870s.  Then children started to go to the dens, and soon the middle class visited them.  Because the mid-to-late nineteenth century middle and elite classes believed in Victorian values, smoking opium threatened their standards and beliefs.  Women needed to remain in the homes and smoking opium attacked the values they held dear, including purity, piety, domesticity, and submissiveness.Read More »

ACLU to Florida Governor Rick Scott: “Piss on This!”

In an earlier post, I noted that Florida’s recently elected Governor Rick Scott (approval ratings as of last week’s close of the legislative session: 29%) had Points editors Travis and Spillane in his sights–along with a few thousand other state employees, I admit.  Drug testing for all recipients of state and federal welfare was signed into law on 31 May, and random testing of all state employees looms on our horizon.  Late last week, however, the Points staff was relieved to hear the hoof beats of the cavalry: the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit in U.S. District Court to block Scott’s Executive Order for mandatory piss testing of garden variety toll takers, game wardens, and liberal arts professors.  Guest Blogger Ron Bilbao, Senior Legislative Associate and Outreach Coordinator for the ACLU of Florida, pays a visit to Points to give us his organization’s stance on the issue. 

The Bill of Rights (Image Courtesy of Fox News)

Governor Scott’s March Executive Order requiring all state employees under his direction to submit to random drug testing seems popular. But criticism of it has been focused and the underlying policy is legally suspect.

The ACLU of Florida has previously succeeded in knocking down misguided and illegal attempts to impose government drug searches of the type proposed by Scott’s order.  In Barron v. City of Hollywood (2000), a federal district court struck down a suspicion-less drug screening program the City of Hollywood sought to mandate for all applicants for employment. The Court’s decision was based on two 1989 decisions by the United States Supreme Court in which the Court set standards for the drug testing of government workers.  Just four years later in Wenzell v. Bankhead, the ACLU represented the plaintiffs  against the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, and the court struck down an employee drug testing scheme for state workers simiar to the one just proposed by Scott and newly challenged by the ACLU.

The ACLU’s decision to challenge the new testing scheme is rooted in the protection against unreasonable government search and seizure – a safeguard so fundamental to us that it’s been enshrined on our Bill of Rights since the Amendments were passed in 1791. At its core a drug test is a seizure of bodily fluids.

New Requirement for Tenure in the Florida State System

Whether it’s urine, blood, or hair, someone else is taking it from you. And it’s being searched. Looking for trace chemicals in your blood is searching.  And in the case of a government mandated drug test, the government is doing the searching and seizing.

Courts have held for a long time that the government can require a drug test in some circumstances. Tests for employees in safety sensitive jobs like policing, or for those who use dangerous machinery, have been allowed for decades. Reasonable suspicion of drug abuse is also considered a reason to require a test.  But when someone is not in a safety sensitive job or is not suspected of abusing drugs, a required government search has long been held to be unreasonable.  Naturally, “unreasonable” coupled with search and seizure is exactly what the Fourth Amendment blocks government from doing.

In addition to the legal and constitutional issues embedded in any suspicion-less testing plan, it’s often also bad policy.  In this case, it’s an unnecessary, wasteful government enterprise.  There is absolutely no evidence that state employees abuse drugs any more than any other group.  Moreover, there has been no report of widespread or even isolated drug use by state workers.  Until the drug testing solution was presented, few had ever even raised state employee drug use as a problem.

Ron Bilbao is a native of Miami and a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Follow him on Twitter: @ronbilbao. 

E.M. Jellinek at Worcester: A Bare Beginning

Bunky Jellinek Doesn't Work Here Anymore

Had Bill W. or Dr. Bob been employed in some capacity at Worcester State Hospital for almost a decade in the 1930s, it’s a pretty safe bet there’d be more than a little written material on that patch of their lives in the recovery movement’s literature.  E.M. Jellinek worked at Worcester for almost a decade, yet that phase of his research career is virtually a blank in his biographical treatments.  As it happens, Jellinek wasn’t sitting on his hands at Worcester either; near the end of his tenure there he’d earned an appointment to the New York Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Worcester State Hospital was the first public asylum for the insane in New England; its doors opened on January 12, 1833.  Almost a hundred years later, in 1927, a Schizophrenia Research Service (SRS) was launched at Worcester, under the direction of Roy G. Hoskins.  The service had an unlikely initial chief external funding source in Katherine Dexter McCormick (1875-1967), wife of Stanley Robert McCormick (1874-1947), youngest son of McCormick harvester developer, Cyrus Hall McCormick (1809-1884).

There are two convenient ciphers available in the literature for approaching Worcester’s Schizophrenia Research Service and Jellinek’s experience there.  Read More »

Teaching a Drugs and Germs Course (At Last I Join You All!)

In the fall of 2010 I designed and taught a graduate course called Drugs and Germs in Global History and Empire. The course began in the period just before the European voyages of exploration and ended in the late twentieth century. It followed drugs across oceans and borders from when they became important commodities in the emerging global trade of the early modern period. It also examined social and cultural contexts of and meanings ascribed to drug use by different peoples in different times. In particular, it examined what happens to patterns of use as a drug moves from one social, cultural, and economic setting to another. Drugs of interest included opium, tobacco, chocolate, coffee, and tea in the early modern period as these drugs were used in China, India, Mesoamerica, and Europe. Later readings focused on cocaine trafficking and use in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Latin America and the United States.Read More »

Abusive Treatment: Drug Prohibition and the Erosion of the Doctor/Patient Relationship

In her third guest post for Points, pain relief activist Siobhan Reynolds traces the unraveling of the doctor-(pain)patient relationship under drug prohibition.

Siobhan Reynolds Looks for the Missing Connections Between Doctor and Patient

Perhaps the most disturbing consequence of opium prohibition, and the one least talked about in polite company, is the steady degradation of the doctor/patient relationship that has occurred since prohibition’s inception. In poor countries, where opioids are not at all available, physicians speak truthfully to their patients when they tell them that they have nothing with which to relieve their pain. In countries like the United States, where opioid pain medications are ostensibly legal but where physicians have been intimidated into withholding pain treatment, the doctors feign their impotence. There is certainly a great deal of pain relief to be found in opioid medications, and they are stacked on the pharmacist’s shelves. But physicians in the US are jailed – often arrested by SWAT teams, de-licensed and destroyed financially – for treating pain in a manner inconsistent with the opinions of government lawyers and agents. If you ask the physician who refuses to treat pain with opioids if his fear of official attention is the cause of his failure to serve his patient, you will likely meet with something quite different than such a humble confession. Instead, you will hear about how addictive the opioids are, or the doctor will say that their use should be confined to the care of the terminally ill, when addiction is not a concern. And he will extol the virtues of the anti-inflammatory and of psychiatric drugs. He will talk about the miracle of biofeedback and the importance of a positive outlook on life in the treatment of pain.

All of these responses have their place in the treatment of pain after the pain has been medically controlled. But recommending these adjustments as if they replace the pain relief provided by opioids is like telling a woman whose house is burning that a simple glass of water will fix her problem or a diabetic that he must exercise to earn his insulin. To a person in suicidal levels of pain, this kind of dissembling amounts to psychological and physical abuse. And yet this conversation between doctor and patient is par for the course under drug prohibition. It is a refrain patients hear over and over, until they finally stop searching for relief and eventually give up on living all together.

The fundamental truth that confronts anyone concerned with the quality of the doctor/patient relationship under drug prohibition – namely, that doctors have in essence been turned against the interests of their patients – remains almost entirely unacknowledged by the profession as a whole. Read More »

The Points Interview: Nick Reding

One of the facts of life for a historian of drugs in the modern United States is that you’ll frequently be asked if you’ve read the latest best-seller on contemporary drug issues.  That was certainly the case when the subject of Points Interview number ten–Nick Reding’s Methland (Bloomsbury, 2009)–first appeared on the best-seller lists.  A new paperback edition of the book was released May 25, and we’re able to mark the occasion with the Points Interview.

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

Methland is about three years in the life of a small Iowa town with a bad methamphetamine problem. To tell the story, it follows the lives of the mayor, the town doctor, the prosecutor, a meth addict, and a trafficker. It’s about where the meth comes from and what it does, but it’s also about the way the town fights back, along with the personal ups and downs of the principal characters.

What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book? 

One thing people talk to me about a lot is the book’s emphasis on larger social and economic vectors as prime movers in the characters’ addictions as they’re portrayed in Methland. This wouldn’t be any news to drug and alcohol historians. But what might be of interest is the origin of these vectors as they pertain to the town of Oelwein, Iowa, which are largely changes in the American food production business, the pharmaceutical industry, and immigration patterns. Read More »