Setting the Record Straight: Part 1

Editor’s Note: Points is pleased to introduce a new guest blogger today. Marcus Chatfield is currently writing a book about coercive therapy in the “troubled-teen industry,” based on research he has conducted as a student at Goddard College. A client of Straight, Incorporated from 1985-1987, he is associate producer of the upcoming documentary film, Surviving Straight Inc. Marcus’s five-part weekly series for Points focuses on the research that enabled this program to win the trust of families, media, and high-ranking officials during its operations in nine states between 1976 and 1993.

“The problem, of course is that Straight really does not know what happens to a good many of its graduates. And it will be criticized for this in the future.” Andrew I. and Barbara E. Malcolm, report to the White House drug czar, 1981.

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The building that housed the Straight Inc. program in Springfield, Virginia.

Straight Incorporated is one of the most infamous adolescent treatment programs in the history of America’s War on Drugs. Straight was an intervention and prevention program, established in 1976 with a federal grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Agency (LEAA). The LEAA funded hundreds of behavior-modification programs in America and many of them were found to be dramatically unethical. The coercive methods that were used at Straight were not only ineffective, but quite harmful for a large percentage of clients. This essay is a critical examination of an article published in 1989 by the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment (JSAT), entitled “Outcome of a Unique Youth Drug Abuse Program: A Follow-up Study of Clients of Straight Inc.” Authors Alfred S. Friedman, Richard Schwartz, and Arlene Utada claimed that Straight was highly effective at reducing drug use and that 70% of the former clients from the Springfield, Virginia facility were “satisfied” with their treatment. Program executives presented this statistic to parents and the media as scientific proof that Straight worked.

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The Question of Temperance in Idaho’s Constitution

Author’s Note:  Washington State’s privatization of liquor sales in 2011 has stimulated renewed interest in this option in neighboring Idaho, where liquor sales fall under the monopoly control of the Idaho State Liquor Division.  The claim that the ISLD has a constitutional mandate to promote temperance harbors a number of rhetorical utilities for the anti-privatization camp.  But is such a claim justified?  Below, I take another look at the history of Idaho’s state constitution to find out.  – Ron Roizen   

William H. Claggett, president of the Idaho constitutional convention
William H. Claggett, president of the Idaho constitutional convention

Does the Idaho State Liquor Division have a constitutional responsibility to “promote temperance”?

As it happens, the word “temperance” appears in one place only in Idaho’s constitution:

Article III, Section 24, which is titled “PROMOTION OF TEMPERANCE AND MORALITY,” reads as follows:  “The first concern of all good government is the virtue and sobriety of the people, and the purity of the home. The legislature should further all wise and well directed efforts for the promotion of temperance and morality.”

This temperance provision dates back to the original 1889 text of Idaho’s constitution, making it more than 120 years old.

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Drugs and the Couples Who Love Them

Wine, chocolate, cigarettes: psychoactive substances have long been trappings of romance. As far back as high school English, I was instructed that the definition of romanticism owes a debt to the Shelleys and their opiates. For lovers who make substance use a routine rather than a romantic ritual, the days of wine and roses turn tragic. Psychologists have other words for this dynamic: codependency, misplaced loyalty, marital dysfunction.*

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Some anthropologists take issue with the way substance-using couples are depicted in mainstream public health scholarship: “While other people have lovers and spouses,” wrote Nina Glick Schiller, “drug users have only ‘sex partners.’”  People who use drugs—whether in couples or subcultural social networks—are seen as a special population at greater risk for contracting and transmitting infectious diseases such as AIDS or hepatitis. Neutral scientific terms like “sex partners” are designed, at least in part, to de-stigmatize at-risk populations by objectively describing pathways of disease transmission that might necessitate public health interventions.

But even before the AIDS crisis reinvigorated the perception of substance-using sex partners as vectors of disease, self-help and social science literature depicted the relationships as degrading. Read More »

Translating Addiction? Some Speculations*

Many scholars of drugs and alcohol that are engaged in comparative work within plural linguistic environments are already aware of the problems of translation. The encounter with compilations of mistranslated signs and slogans that many of us may have had in our first language courses have constituted some of our earliest brushes with the pitfalls of translation. (E.g.: Bangkok Dry Cleaner’s sign: “Drop your trousers here for best results” or an earlier version of KFC’s “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan—“Eat your fingers off” 吃掉你的手指头.[1]) Translation, it seems, can be dangerous.

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Identified as in Shanghai, but likely a sign for Beijing’s Ethnic Culture Park.

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Points of Continuity

As the new managing editor of Points, it’s high time I introduced myself. For my lateness, I could offer some familiar academic excuses, but I have one that’s better: thanks mainly to work done by Trysh Travis and others, the blog has been filled with excellent essays in the new year, led by the wonderful symposium on the fortieth anniversary of David Musto’s The American Disease that was organized by Nancy Campbell. Reading those posts as they arrived was an especially useful way for me to start my tenure. They illustrated the development of drug history in the lived, personal pathways that are usually invisible to late-comers and onlookers. In doing so they put on display one of the best and most necessary things about Points: its role as a window into – and often, as a medium fefc Hvd ID picor – the multi-layered nature of knowledge production. Ideas in development, reflections on method, forays across disciplinary borders and, as in the symposium, retrospection – together these various kinds of posts constitute a fuller and more open account of how academic thought takes shape. But this is just one way of thinking about Points. One of my goals is to facilitate an open conversation about what the blog can and should do.

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The Points Interview — An Vleugels

Editor’s Note:  An Vleugels graces Points today with a few words about her forthcoming book, Narratives of Drunkenness: Belgium, 1830-1914 (London: Pickering &
Chatto, 2013). An is a lecturer in the history of medicine, mind, and the body at Birkbeck, University of London.

1.  Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Narratives of Drunkenness is about how drunkenness was understood in Belgium in the second half of the nineteenth century. Drinking alcohol was part of daily life. Workers needed it: they believed gin and beer gave them necessary strength to get on with their heavy work. They also drank a lot in the pub, especially when there was something to be celebrated. Wealthy people drank a lot too, enjoying wine with their copious meals and sweet liquors afterwards to help digestion. But at some point and for some people this drinking became too much.

Félicien Rops, “Le Gandin Ivre” (“The Drunken Dandy”) (1877)
Félicien Rops, “Le Gandin Ivre” (“The Drunken Dandy”) (1877)

When and for whom, however, was not straightforward. It depended on cultural categories such as gender and class. For example, getting drunk in public was not the same thing for a group of workers who had just received their paychecks on a Monday as it would be for a middle class lady who needed her medicinal pick-me-up to deal with the boredom of her role as angel of the house. I tried to trace different stories of drunkenness in different places, in the countryside, the cities and also in the Belgian colony of Congo. Whereas in the beginning of the nineteenth century excessive drinking was seen as a vice and a responsibility of the individual drinkers, by the end of the century excessive drinking was regarded as affecting the whole of the social body and it became understood as a “disease.”  The book traces how this shift came about in the complex and changing society that was Belgium in the second half of the 19th century.

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Booze Collectors, Part I

As a historian, I want to pause for a moment and thank the collectors. While I enjoy a jaunt through an antique, rare books, or vintage store, I have not developed the eye or the love of the search and acquisition of some desired object, document, book, or even clothing item. As a historian, I also readily admit that I do not have the financial resources of some of the great collectors of Americana. Richard Gilder, Lewis Lehrman, Samuel Tilden, John Jacob Astor, or James Lenox  have been instrumental in building historical collections in New York City such as Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History at the New York Historical Society and the New York Public Library-Steve Schwartzman building. Their love of history and their ability to collect it have given many historians the evidence needed to demonstrate the complexity of the past. These important collections grew due, in part, to the focused work of collectors.

These stewards of American history have played an important role in my research and teaching. For the past couple of years, I have worked closely with librarians and archivists in New York City to teach my students to use the great collections resources for their own projects. That ongoing collaboration with historical practitioners has greatly enhanced my knowledge about drug and alcohol collections. As I discussed in a previous blog, “Doing Drugs in the Archive,”  there are many unique collections on drugs and alcohol that are worth a trip to New York. Returning to this theme, I plan to highlight a couple of collections this year, and I want to start by introducing a smaller collection:the Liebmann collection of American historical documents relating to spirituous liquors. It is part of the Manuscripts and Archives Division,  The New York Public Library Astor, Lenox, and nypldoorTilden Foundations in the Schwartzman Building. Read More »

CFP: Complexity: Researching Alcohol and Other Drugs in a Multiple World (August 21-23, Aarhus, Denmark)

The last decade has seen the idea of complexity gain force in social science and epidemiological research. This conference offers a forum in which the issues and dilemmas of complexity in alcohol and other drug research can be explored. It welcomes research based on quantitative and qualitative methods, and encourages innovative use of methods, concepts and theoretical approaches.

Hosted by the journal Contemporary Drug Problems, the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research (Aarhus University, Denmark), the National Drug Research Institute (Curtin University, Australia), and the Centre for Population Health (Burnet Institute, Australia), this conference will bring together international researchers in drug use and addiction studies from a range of research disciplines.

Deadline for abstracts is February 18. For further details, visit the conference website.

The ADHS at AHA: Two Panel Possibilities

Editor’s note: Emily Dufton, assisting the ADHS in assembling panel proposals for the AHA conference in January, 2014, passes along two potential panels for which paper contributions are eagerly sought. Please contact Emily directly, at ebdufton@gwmail.gwu.edu, if you are interested. 

1) A drug use and social movements panel: What are the various roles drug use has played in some of the most important grassroots social movements in the United States? Most obviously we relate drug use to the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, but drug use has also driven activism within the Black Panthers, religious freedom movements in Native American culture, the gay rights movement seeking greater access to retroviral drugs in the time of AIDS, and the medical marijuana/freedom of access movement of the past two decades. Additionally, reactions against drug use have driven the formation of prohibition activists of the early 20th century and the parent movement of the late 20th century. Reading the term “social movement” as widely as possible, what other roles has drug use played in social movements that have transpired across the United States?

2) Drug use and urban history panel: Drugs have become a symptom of urban neglect for decades, and their eradication has long been read as a symptom of urban renewal. This panel hopes to explore the ways in which drug history and urban history have intersected.  How have drugs, drug use, and anti-drug activism played formative roles in the growth and evolution of cities? What can we learn about urban history from a study of drug use that we cannot learn in other ways?


Of Mugshots and Meth or, the Horror of the REAL

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No artistry or fried eggs now; just the REAL truth. Those eggs look pretty good now, don’t they?

In an attempt to garner publicity for its services, Rehabs.com published an infographic entitled “The Horror of Methamphetamines.” It is, indeed, a horrifying spectacle, a “sobering depiction of REAL individuals who’ve fallen victim to the temptation of drug use.” We know what we are seeing is “REAL” because all the photos are mugshots. The dispassion of the mugshot, the idea that nothing is staged here, no one is posing or even thinking about an audience, is what lends legitimacy to the project.

The face at the top of the infographic serves an explicitly educational purpose, with information boxes explaining how meth can cause acne, tooth decay, and weight loss. The other photos are just sequenced in chronological order. Explanations are not really necessary; the images clearly show that meth turns young people into zombies.

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