Setting the Record Straight, Part 3

Editor’s note: Today Marcus Chatfield continues his series on Straight Inc., the involuntary treatment program for adolescents suspected of drug use that operated in several states between the 1970s and 1990s. Parts 1 and 2 of the series can be found here and here.

In Help at Any Cost (2006), Maia Szalavitz reveals some of the troubling history of coercive programs. The sub-title of her book is, “How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids,” and this is one of the hardest things for a survivor to describe – the deceit that protects abusive programs. Dr. Charles Huffine writes, “I cannot tell you how many youth I’ve been in contact with that do not tell their family about the painful aspects of their experiences for fear of making their family feel bad — though I can say they number in the majority. All too frequently, simply, they did not know they were abused, or worse, that the abuse was justified and necessary for them to ‘get better.’”

Straight-inspired TV movie Not My Kid (1985). Spoiler alert: they got their kid back.

Straight-inspired TV movie Not My Kid (1985). Spoiler alert: they got their kid back.

Tough-love programs often ritualize emotional testimonies and require testimony about conversion experiences as a prerequisite for release from treatment. Because there is no scientific evidence to validate the safety and efficacy of coercive methods, these anecdotes are the “hook” that this multi-billion dollar industry is built upon. Many victims of thought-reform treatments, like victims of domestic violence, will defend their captors as a self-protective survival response. Similar to abusive dynamics in families, when people are beaten down long enough they may believe it’s normal, deserved, and even good for them. As one former staff member of the program said to me recently, “at the time I graduated I was so duped into believing that I’d been helped, I couldn’t even begin to see the damage caused to me.”

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The Points Interview — Dan Malleck

Editor’s note: Dan Malleck is a historian of medicine on the Community Health Sciences faculty at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and he keeps a blog on Canadian drug history. His interview with Points focuses on his recently published book, Try to Control Yourself: The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927-44 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012).

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

Malleck - Try to Control Yourself cover picMy book looks at the introduction and regulation of public drinking from 1927-1944, after prohibition ended in the province of Ontario. It is focused on the relationship between the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the management of licensed drinking spaces, mostly hotel beverage rooms and clubs. It argues that the rules which seem so odd today, were part of a long process of negotiation and an attempt to build a viable public drinking system in a highly politically charged environment. 

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

The study might be called grass-roots, in that it examines the regulatory activities of the LCBO in six communities across the large province, from the border communities of Windsor (across from Detroit) and the Niagara region (across from Niagara Falls and Buffalo) to the provincial and national capitals (Toronto and Ottawa, respectively), a mixed rural and urban county with a large ethnic German population (Waterloo) and the large region in the northwest (Thunder Bay). It uses the inspection records and communication between the various levels of the LCBO (senior management and inspectors on the ground) and the beverage room operators, along with communications with politicians, interested social organizations and everyday people to develop a picture of the intricate process of regulating the politically charged issue of public drinking in large and diverse province. Historians may be intrigued or repulsed by the theoretical tools I use. Continue reading →

Pharma Gamesmanship in the Booming Business of Addiction Therapeutics: the Case of Suboxone

Editor’s Note: Points welcomes another new guest blogger to the ranks today. Kimberly Sue is an M.D.-Ph.D. candidate in medical anthropology at Harvard, doing ethnographic fieldwork with opiate-addicted women. Below, Kim details some very recent developments in the ways pharma companies invoke societal values around drugs in order to manage their market share, and discusses how the outcomes are likely to affect people in treatment.

Pharmaceutical companies and opiates have a complicated, intertwined history. Analgesia was and continues to be a big business as well as an ongoing medical conundrum. Opiates, as we know, are wildly popular analgesics. Yet when did opiates specifically indicated for treating addiction become such a big business, a lucrative niche market inciting pharmaceutical companies to aggressive industry maneuvers? As Penn professors John Kimberly and Thomas McLellan wrote in a 2006 article on the substance abuse treatment industry, “Pharmaceutical companies that, not long ago, refused to allow the use of even their discarded medications for clinical research in addiction now invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the marketing and sales of approved addiction medications.”

Mum, mustard, and maintenance. ( Reckitt Benckiser annual report, 2011).

Mum, mustard, and maintenance. (Reckitt Benckiser annual report, 2011)

Does this say something about the changing cultural attitudes towards addiction—that pharmaceutical companies are no longer afraid of being branded as making drugs for drug addicts—or does it simply speak to the enormous profits to be had?

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Setting the Record Straight, Part 2

Editor’s note: Today guest blogger Marcus Chatfield continues his series on Straight, Inc. and the research it used to burnish its reputation in the 1980s.

As part of my research I sent a questionnaire to 12 former clients of Straight, some of whom I was in treatment with. My purpose was to collect testimony that would help explain the findings of Friedman et al., and to help raise awareness about the abuses that went on in Straight. I asked participants to reflect on their experiences in Straight and compare their current perspective with their perspective immediately following treatment. Their reports also included descriptions of broken relationships with parents, intensified drug use in the first few years after graduation, and long-term trauma resulting from coerced participation in the program. All of the participants reported being “extremely dissatisfied” now but most reported high levels of satisfaction with their treatment during the time soon after their release. As one former staff member responded, “my answers to these questions are completely different than they would have been immediately after completing aftercare because I was still brainwashed by Straight’s doctrine well beyond my involvement with Straight.”

Large group therapy

“Large group therapy process” (Straight brochure)

The only peer-reviewed research specific to clients of Straight was conducted by Straight’s own Medical Director, Richard Schwartz. Looking at the history of the program, it appears that this research began during a financially critical time. Continue reading →

Failed Frontlash: How Liberals Furthered the Case for Mass Incarceration

The response to the Civil Rights Movement initiated one of the most punitive interventions in United States history. Beginning with the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965 and onward, the state took on a new role in crime and drug control. State and federal governments revised their criminal codes, imposing mandatory minimums and effectively abolishing parole. Moreover, juveniles were now incarcerated in adult prisons, chain gangs returned—as did a malicious policy of felon disenfranchisement—all while prison rates soared, increasing six-fold between 1973 and the turn of the century.

ImageCompared to its advanced industrial counterparts, the United States imprisons at least five times more of its citizens per capita. Are we inherently more criminal than other nations? Or, do we manufacture criminality? For the most part, the United States and most other human societies across time and space have always had problems with drugs and crime. This is not unique. How the United States has chosen to combat said problem, as well as its unfortunate results, are unique. Legal scholar Jonathan Simon argues that in the United States, crime has become “a, if not the, defining problem of government.” How did we get here?

Vesla Mae Weaver’s work—particularly her use of “frontlash”—offers some important clues to understanding the punitive impulse.  Continue reading →

The Points Interview — Herman Ronnenberg

Editor’s Note: “Dr. Beer,” Herman W. Ronnenberg, responds to Points’ questions re his latest book: Material Culture of Breweries (Left Coast Press, 2011).

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

Ronnenberg-bookThis book traces the development of beer brewing facilities, equipment and techniques in America from the first English brewing at the lost Roanoke Colony to the early 21st Century. It also covers the preparation of brewing materials and the containers used to deliver beer.  Many methods were used to make barley into malt, to grow and dry hops, to try to keep yeast pure.

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

Many students of alcohol history know little about the manufacturing techniques or the science behind alcohol production. Continue reading →