Editor’s note: Today guest blogger and medical anthropologist Kim Sue offers her observations on how changing marijuana laws have slowly begun to impact the world of the opiate-addicted patients she studies–and the wider society’s assumptions about drugs and the reasons people use them.
I have been closely following the campaign for and roll-out of medical marijuana in Massachusetts as I conduct ongoing ethnographic fieldwork on opiate use and incarceration. Given marijuana’s prominent place in the historical, political, and cultural framings of the War on Drugs, it is critical to consider evolving legal frameworks and cultural attitudes toward the drug.
Last fall, advocates for medical marijuana managed to get it enacted via referendum. Read More »
Note: Readers are encouraged to send potential leads, sources, or thoughts relating to E.M. Jellinek’s life to Judit Ward, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ron Roizen, at email@example.com. With thanks in advance, from both of us.
Who was E.M. Jellinek?
As a great many Points readers will already be aware, Jellinek rose to prominence in mid-20th-century America as a spokesman for “a new scientific approach” to alcoholism and alcohol. Prohibition was repealed at the end of 1933, the temperance movement and its paradigm were discredited, and the nation was, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, looking for a new perspective on its longstanding problematic relationship with Demon Rum. For a variety of reasons, Jellinek proved to be an excellent instrument for inviting the nation to embrace a new and more scientifically oriented disposition toward alcohol-related problems. He also published two very useful artifacts with respect to the modern alcoholism movement: a widely employed description of alcoholism’s progressively unfolding symptomatology and a formula for estimating the prevalence of alcoholism. E.M. Jellinek’s name is still revered today in both the alcohol science community and in Alcoholics Anonymous.
For the past several months, we — i.e., Judit Ward and her staff at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies library and Ron Roizen in Idaho — have been collecting material on E.M. Jellinek’s life, loves, career, and times. In part, we’re searching for elements of his past that may have prepared him for the profound role he played in transforming our society’s relationship to alcohol and alcoholism. Yet — and also — he’s just a damn interesting guy to learn about. So far, it’s been both an intoxicatingly exciting adventure and a very frustrating task.
One of the project’s strengths is that one of us (viz., J.W.) is a native Hungarian speaker. This advantage holds considerable promise for ultimately sorting out Jellinek’s currency trading caper in 1920 and his rapid and ignominious departure from Budapest the same year. It’s also an advantage with respect to new work being done of late by Hungarian scholars on Jellinek’s life and relationships (see Kelemen and Mark , Mark and Brettner , and Hars ). To date, the American readership of these articles might not stretch far beyond the two of us – with, of course, J.W. doing the translating and R.R. doing the attentive listening. Yet, this tick up in Hungarian interest is certainly a very welcome sign. We’ve had the privilege, too, of communicating directly with Gabor Kelemen, one of the Hungarian scholars. He reports, among other things, that he’s currently at work on an examination of Jellinek’s 1917 monograph on the ethnographic history of the shoe (Jellinek, 1917).
Was that the shoe?!
Not the least engaging aspect of our biographical project is how colorfully varied Jellinek’s many intellectual pursuits were.Read More »
The qualities associated with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s brand of literary celebrity—youth, intoxication, romance, tragedy—are as saleableas ever, nearly one hundred years later. Yet Fitzgerald himself died indebted and desperate in 1940, the victim of a disease that smart people were beginning to call alcoholism.
Ernest Hemingway famously blamed Fitzgerald’s alcohol abuse on his wife, Zelda; later, in a letters to Zelda’s psychiatrists and family members, Scott Fitzgerald seemed to agree. The literary scholar Julie M. Irwin argued that Fitzgerald’s alcohol abuse could not be blamed, as many of his biographers claimed, on external circumstances like his finances or marital problems. Instead, she argued, Fitzgerald “drank through” all of his “successes and failures” for one simple reason: he was an alcoholic.Read More »
Journalist and political commentator E.J. Dionne Jr. began his Washington Post Op-Ed of June 15, 1993 by chronicling the recent success of then-elect mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan. Elected on the promise that he was “tough enough to turn L.A. around,” Riordan talked an awful lot about crime and business confidence. Despite his Republican status, Dionne haled Riordan for his “back to basics” approach to crime control and urban policy, suggesting that Democrats would do well to follow suite. “Democrats and liberals who want to maintain their power in urban areas” wrote Dionne, needed to respond with a similar program of their own. What the cities needed quipped Dionne, were “Kojak Liberals”. Liberals that could think, talk, and act “tough as nails” all while maintaining a “heart of gold”—much in the model of Kojak, the quintessential TV cop played by Telly Savalas (and soon, Vin Diesel in a theatre near you).
In the future, Kojak Liberals would be wise to return to “the things government knows how to do,” such as, “putting cops on the street” and “keeping the parks clean,” all the while cutting spending on the “things it doesn’t know so much about”—namely, “a range of social service programs.” After all, according to Dionne, “Social service spending has mostly benefited the urban poor and—perhaps at least importantly—the providers (social workers, health administrators and the like) who served them. In the cities, the poor are disproportionately African American and Latino.” Following the desperately needed demographics lesson, Dionne speculated that more efficient, equitable spending on “basic services” (like enforcement and incarceration) “help all classes,” because “rich and poor alike benefit from more cops on the beat and safer public parks.”
Sounding increasingly like Oscar Lewis, Richard Nixon, or perhaps, Mitt Romney, Dionne railed on: “for now, the biggest problems confronted by the inner city poor are created by rising violence and lawlessness.” All other problems were secondary. First, these dangerous districts needed to be controlled in an effort to “take back the streets” as high crime rates had made “life miserable for the law-abiding majority among the poor.” Lest there be any confusion, Dionne made the future priorities of Kojak Liberalism very clear: “Kojak Liberals are unabashed in saying when it comes to priorities, law-enforcement and crime prevention get top billing.” Unfortunately, somewhere along the way law enforcement learned that high-volume arrests created the illusion of progress and sound police work in the Drug War. As such, this quickly became the standard practice, crime prevention receded from view. By 1990, Drug Czar William Bennett happily gloated that “a massive wave of arrests” was now “top priority for the War on Drugs.” Indeed.Read More »
Karl Marx is credited with observing that, “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” It is hard not to remember this insight when reading the brilliant Addicts Who Survived two decades after its initial publication. After all, the year the book was published, 1989, was the same year Bush Sr. announced that the $2400 bag of crack he had in his hand was purchased (gasp!) directly across from the White House. Of course, the dealer – a high school student – had been lured to that spot by DEA agents in order to produce the theatrical prop. In the years preceding this stunt, crack had entered the public consciousness as it burned through poor inner city communities. The government had responded by setting mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and creating a legal disparity between crack and cocaine that led to imprisonment of the most vulnerable and stigmatized drug users. Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS rates were ballooning exponentially, and injection drug use was increasingly the mode of transmission. The most popular response to the problems associated with drug use and addiction was Nancy Reagan’s 1984 campaign to “Just Say No.” Her husband remained silent on the subject of AIDS until 1985, when he expressed skepticism about allowing HIV-positive children to attend school. Although early forms of harm reduction were emerging in the UK and junkies were unionizing in the Netherlands, the movement did not take significant form in the US until the mid- to late-1980s.
So when I bring Marx’s quote to mind, it is with the painful recognition that every farce is still a tragedy.Read More »
Shreveport, Louisiana, is a city most Americans know very little about. Close to the Texas and Arkansas borders, Shreveport is the largest urban area in northern Louisiana, the majority-Protestant and more culturally “southern” part of the state (as opposed to the majority-Catholic, geographically southern half). Americans with an interest in drug history, however, have an almost intimate knowledge of what happened in Shreveport in the early 1920s. This is largely because of one man, Willis P. Butler, who ran the narcotic dispensary in the city from 1919 to 1923, providing legal access to morphine for addicts in need. The Shreveport clinic was the longest functioning of all the narcotic clinics in the country (most of which were located in the Northeast) and when Willis P. Butler was forced to shut his operation down in 1923 it unequivocally marked the end of the clinic era.
The clinics were largely forgotten by mid-century, yet when methadone became increasingly available to American opiate addicts in the late 1960s, it created a renewed interest in the clinic system of the 1920s. Willis P. Butler was essentially “rediscovered” in the fall of 1971. One academic managed to get in touch with Butler in early October 1971, and the word quickly spread – the late Yale historian David F. Musto, for example, was among the earliest to get in touch with Butler, only a few weeks later. When interviewed by David Courtwright in 1978, Butler was over ninety years old and among the very few alive to tell the story of the clinics from personal experience. Butler was born in 1888, and graduated from Vanderbilt Medical School in 1911. After finishing his degree, Butler moved to Shreveport and was elected to the role of parish (county) physician and coroner of Caddo parish, a role which included tending to the needs of addicts.
Editor’s note: Not every interview conducted for Addicts Who Survived was of an addict. The work includes some fascinating oral histories of individuals with notable roles in the modern history of addiction and the drug war. Among these, Dr. Willis Butler, who operated one of the most notable narcotic maintenance clinics opened around the time of the Harrison Act and closed soon thereafter. We’ll have commentary to Dr. Butler’s oral history tomorrow.
Willis Pollard Butler was the most celebrated and controversial of all the early clinic doctors. Born in modest circumstances in Gibsland, Louisiana, in 1888, Butler moved with his family to Shreveport in 1899, where he took a summer job as a drugstore delivery boy. (Ironically, his chores included the delivery of dram bottles of morphine to the local addicts.) He eventually worked his way through Vanderbilt Medical School, graduating in 1911. Returning home, he applied his talents as chemist and bacteriologist for the Shreveport Board of Health, until he was elected parish physician and coroner in 1916. He served in that capacity for no fewer than forty-eight years. When interviewed in 1978, he was over ninety years old.1
Butler was above all else a superb politician. He was handsome, charming, articulate, and on a first-name basis with everyone who counted in Shreveport. That, together with the efficient and discriminating manner in which his clinic was run, assured local support and temporarily frustrated the designs of interloping federal agents.
Although Butler’s memory was phenomenal for a man of his years, it should be borne in mind that his is only one side of the story, that the agents who hounded him and the doctors who turned on him can make no rebuttal. As Butler himself observed, “I don’t know anybody connected with it—top, bottom, or middle—still living except me.” For the sake of confidentiality, the names of addicts mentioned by Butler have been changed, as have the names of those who may have violated the law.
I was health officer, medical examiner for this district, and parish physician. One day—it was the third of May, 1919—Dr. Oscar Dowling, president of the state board of health, came to Shreveport. As usual, he called me, because I was representing the state board of health up in northern Louisiana. He asked me down to the hotel to make a culture of his throat—he had a sore throat. I went down there to see him and, as we walked out of the hotel, he said, “Butler, you having any problem up here with addicts?” I said, “Yes. I don’t know about particular problems, but we got a lot of them. I’m having trouble with them in jail, and there’s an awful lot of thievery and that sort of thing going on, and the police say that a lot of them are responsible.” He said, “Well, we have opened up a clinic down in New Orleans, under Dr. Marion Swords. I suggest that you come down there and see how it’s being done, because we have the approval of the government and the Treasury Department Narcotic Division. Maybe you could start the same thing up here.”
Well, I went to New Orleans. I knew Dr. Swords quite well; he was secretary-treasurer of the state board of health. He had this clinic right across from the courthouse on the corner of Conti Street; it looked like a little alley down in the French Quarter. What I saw was a bunch of derelicts coming in, and they were giving them a little vial—it lookedlike it might hold 15 or 20 cc. He said that they were putting morphine in there, a certain amount according to what they wanted them to start with. The next day, they would put in a little less, but the same amount of water. They were going to get them off of it by reduction. I said, “You don’t know much about addicts if you think that you can fool them as to whether they’re suffering or not.” I said I’d have nothing to do with that sort of thing at all, and I told Dr. Dowling that I did not want to assume any such responsibility.Read More »
Editor’s Note: Our series of reflections on Addicts Who Survived continues today with Eric Schneider discussing Teddy’s narrative, posted yesterday.
How did heroin become a drug used largely by African Americans after World
War Two, when it had been a primarily white drug in the previous decades? What were
the social settings that nurtured this new wave of heroin use? How did young people,
primarily males, become the postwar generation of heroin sellers and users?
David Courtwright locates the transition from white to black heroin use in the
Great Migration, the movement of African American southerners into northern cities,
where a primarily rural people encountered not only problems of social dislocation but
also a racism as overt and virulent as the one they left behind. But urban life was also
different, and while hemmed in by a color line that shaped residence, education, and
employment, African Americans were freer to act within these bounded spaces. Here
African Americans developed a language and a style of cultural resistance, an infra
politics of daily life, a zoot-suited, bebop-inflected assertion of self that emerged most
clearly in the social settings of entertainment and vice districts that police effectively
zoned into black residential neighborhoods. Illicit off-the-books economic activity
mingled with outright criminality and ordinary working class street life, and the drug use
of gamblers, pimps, prostitutes and hustlers inevitably seeped into daily life.
How do we understand the process by which heroin use spread? There are some autobiographies, most notably Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, that
testify to the spread of heroin within teenage peer groups. Investigations by reporters,
local police or the Federal Bureau of Narcotics tracked down the sources of the new
upsurge in heroin use that had caught them completely by surprise after the heroin
drought during World War Two. Court records reveal the outlines of trafficking schemes
as heroin made its way from city to city, and Congressional, state and municipal hearings
featured heroin users who explained before television audiences how they got “hooked.”
These records, while useful, all have limitations. Autobiographies are artfully designed
and can rarely be taken at face value, prosecutorial records are focused on proving a
particular version of events, and investigators in public hearings prepare their witnesses
and agree on the presentation of a narrative. Of course oral histories also suffer from
limitations, especially selective memory, and depend on the knowledge and the rapport
established by the interviewer, but they provide first-person insight into the
circumstances and the choices made by ordinary individuals whose experiences might
otherwise be lost. Addicts Who Survived is the best collection of interviews with opiate
users that I know.Read More »
Editor’s note: After introducing the series last week, I’m pleased to present the first of the excerpts from Addicts Who Survived chosen by our guest bloggers. Eric Schneider made extensive use of the oral histories collected by Courtwright, Joseph, and Des Jarlais in his 2011 book, Smack: Heroin and the American City. Asked to choose one particular passage from Addicts Who Survived, Eric has recommended the recounting by “Teddy” of his teenage experiences with the world of illicit enterprise. Tomorrow, Eric will offer his own reflections.–Joe Spillane
Teddy was born of black parents in Savannah, Georgia, in 1927. His family life was extremely unstable. His absentee father drank himself to death, and his mother tried repeatedly to foist Teddy on other relatives: “ I was like a burden to her.” Eventually she ran away to New York City, but he found her and joined her in the mid-1930s.
When I was a youngster Harlem was alive. You could hear laughter. The streets would be full of people. Lenox Avenue, Seventh Avenue, all had businesses: there wasn’t an empty store front along there. Seventh Avenue was like Broadway downtown. There was dope in Harlem, and crime, but it wasn’t like it is now: people weren’t getting mugged. Sure, there were fights, but it was basically just fights.
The section I lived in was integrated. There were white people living right down the block on 132nd Street, and on 134th. I went to school with white kids. We even had gangs or clubs with the white kids in them. The people who owned the stores, most of them were Jews or Italians; they used to bring their kids there in the morning, and the kids would go to school with us to grammar school. When they’d complete grammar school, they’d go someplace else. I went to P.S. 89: it was the first school I’d gone to. I didn’t go all that much down South-there wasn’t nobody to make you go down there; it was left to your family. It wasn’t compulsory to go to school the way it was here in New York. So my mother had to take me to school. I went as far as the eighth grade. I started ninth grade but I was just going, if you know what I mean: I went when I wanted. There was no one there to guide me; there was never no one home. My mother worked as a maid on Long Island. She would leave in the morning to go to work, or whatever, and she might come home two days later. So I’d be runnin’ around on the streets and stealing. At that time you could go to all the five-and-ten-cent stores, where they’d have cookies and candies just laying on the shelves. I’d go and pick them up and eat them. It was like a picnic. Everything was in the open-it wasn’t like it is now, where everything is in cases.
I had run-ins with the police, like for stealing cases of soda off of trucks. See, back then the police had a different system. The police knew just about everybody on their beat: all the kids, where they lived, who their mothers were, and their fathers. This way, if something happened in the neighborhood—if someone said, “Why, them kids stole so-and-so” —he’d round up all the kids in the block and find out who it was. Most of the time they’d take you home. But if your mother wasn’t home, they’d take you to the precinct, slap you around, beat you up, and send you on home. Then they’d notify your parents and say, “Listen, Teddy did this, this, and this.” That’s when I was getting to be about thirteen, fourteen years old.
The first time that I actually got arrested was for cuttin’ a guy. I was in a teenager’s gang; maybe I was about fifteen. It was a territory thing: we’ve got this block, this is our block, and you can’t come in this block unless you’ve got permission from us. We were fighting, but we weren’t fighting really to kill one another, even though we had sticks and knives. You had to carry this stuff. If you stuck somebody, it made you a big guy. If you stuck so-and-so, they’d give you a name like “Ice Pick Slim” or “Killer Ray.” You’d try to get a nickname for yourself. The police would take us in, and line up all the clubs, and ask, “Who did this?” So you’d say, “I stuck the guy,” right? It was a thing where, if you did it, you told them. You did it because it looked good-you’d get a name for yourself, you know. People would say, “Teddy sticked that guy, yeah,” or “Teddy’ll kill ya,” or “Don’t mess with Teddy, ’cause he’s a bad guy.”‘This is how you started to get that rep, or that bad-guy image.Read More »