Teaching Points: “The History of Drugs in Twentieth-Century America”

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Marco Ramos and Tess Lanzarotta. Ramos is an MD/Ph.D. candidate in the History of Science and Medicine program at Yale University focusing on the production and circulation of scientific knowledge during the Cold War in the global south. Lanzarotta is a Ph.D. candidate in the same department focusing on the ways that contemporary interactions between biomedical researchers and indigenous populations are shaped by their historical antecedents. This summer, Ramos and Lanzarotta taught a course on the history of drugs in the twentieth century and we’ve invited them to contribute to our “Teaching Points” series. Enjoy! 

Over the course of five weeks this summer, we co-taught a course on “The History of Drugs in Twentieth-Century America.” As discussed in our earlier post, we decided to focus the course around historical processes of drug categorization, rather than on a single drug or class of drugs. We hoped that this approach would draw undergraduate students’ attention to the ways that systems of drug classification are and have been shaped by their historical contexts. In particular, we felt it was crucial to emphasize the ways that drug categories affect and are affected by the people who use and regulate drugs.

Part of the impetus for the course was our own sense that historical analysis makes a particularly useful tool for understanding contemporary dilemmas surrounding drug use and drug policy. Bearing that in mind, we structured our classroom discussions and course assignments to encourage students to draw lessons from the past and bring them to bear on the present. The class was a seminar format with sessions running for three hours, twice each week; we tried to break up this rather long classroom time by delivering short lectures, showing documentaries and television episodes, visiting the Yale Medical Historical Library and Yale Art Gallery, and by bringing in guest speakers who could share their perspectives and expertise.

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The State of the Art: The Malcolms’ Examination of Straight, Incorporated, Timeline

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a five-part series from Marcus Chatfield, a regular contributor to Points. Here he offers a timeline of key events and news articles in the history of Straight, Inc., the controversial adolescent drug treatment program that existed from 1976 to 1993. Thank you Marcus for bringing this series to Points!

November, 1980 – Opening Day, Sarasota facility.

1981

1/4/1981 – Sarasota Herald-Tribune begins series on Straight, featuring Dr. Robert DuPont (White House Drug Policy Advisor for Presidents Nixon and Ford, and former Director of NIDA), and his sense of urgency about preventing marijuana use.

1/4/81 – “Former Drug Abusers Share The Holidays At Straight-South Inc. – Straight: Hurt Into Help” – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

1/5/81 – “Community Concern Gave Straight Its Start” –  Sarasota Herald-Tribune

“Doctor Discusses The Dangers Of Pot Use” – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

“‘Facts’ Change Doctor’s Views On Pot Use” – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

1/20/81 – Reagan/Bush Inauguration Day

2/6/81 – Press conference at Sarasota Straight, Dr. Robert DuPont announces Straight’s national expansion: 26 new branches that will cost $18,212,000.00 over 5 years (1982-1986).

2/9/81 – “Straight Inc. Urged To Expand Nationwide” – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

2/10/81 –  “Straight Inc. Directors Mull Nationwide Expansion” – Sarasota Journal

7/6/81 –  “Growing Straight Inc Remains Controversial” – St. Petersburg Times

7/7/81 –  “Tough Love Makes Straight Successful, 2 Graduates Say…Another Youth    Tells of Threats and Intimidation” – St. Petersburg Times

7/30/81 –  “Drug Rehabilitation Center Will Help Users Go Straight” – Atlanta Constitution

8/2/81 – “Straight, Inc Coming to Cobb to Help Free Teens From Drugs”– Marietta Daily Journal

8/5/81 – Betty Sembler (wife of Straight’s founding president, Mel Sembler) letter to Carlton Turner (White House Drug Policy Advisor), confirming his future participation in the “Awareness Program” and inviting him for dinner with Dr. DuPont in Washington, D.C. (p. 1).

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The State of the Art: The Malcolms’ Examination of Straight, Incorporated, Part 4

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a five-part series from Marcus Chatfield, a regular contributor to Points. Here he continues his examination of Straight, Inc., the controversial adolescent drug treatment program that existed from 1976 to 1993. 

Carlton Turner visited (p. 7) the Saint Petersburg facility, two months after Andrew and Barbara Malcolm. He attended a Friday night “Open Meeting” on October 16, 1981 and soon after that visit, Straight’s National Director, James Hartz, asked Turner to write an endorsement letter for their Solicitation Presentation:

As you know from our telephone conversation, STRAIGHT, INC. is developing strategies for expanding our base in the search for funding. At the moment we are preparing an informative brochure to submit to those foundations, corporations, and individuals from whom we are requesting financial support. Enclosed is an outline illustrative of the type of information to be included. As soon as the brochure is completed, we will forward a copy to you. One of the most important facets of our presentation will be letters of support. We have already obtained permission from Dr. DuPont and Dr. Malcolm, who are forwarding their letters to us. The impact of a package such as ours is perceptibly enhanced by this type of verification. We are, of course, well-known in the areas in which we are located but a communication from you would substantially strengthen our credibility with those unfamiliar with our program and accomplishments (p. 15).

As the lawsuits and bad press accumulated during the years of expansion, this “perceptual enhancement” would become more and more important to Straight’s directors. As the ACLU was investigating the Atlanta program, within 6 months of its opening there, Robert DuPont (p. 1399) and Carlton Turner (p. 22) arranged for Nancy Reagan to visit the Saint Petersburg program, apparently in a show of solidarity. When Straight was (briefly) “cleared” of wrongdoing in Ohio and Georgia, James Hartz, wrote to Turner thanking him for his endorsement at the Florida fundraiser and “the efforts of your good offices in helping us over some rough spots during the past few months” (p. 24).

Reagan Diana Straight
Nancy Reagan and Lady Diana visit a Straight facility in Springfield, Va.

That was just the beginning; as Straight expanded it was repeatedly sued – Vice President George Bush made a promotional visit in 1987 and a TV commercial for Straight. In 1988, As President-elect, he agreed to appear on a Straight Inc. fundraising telethon. As rumors about brainwashing spread, Nancy Reagan made highly publicized visits to Straight, one of them with Lady Diana. After multiple lawsuits and state investigations found evidence of widespread abuses, Ronald Reagan wrote a blurb for a Straight brochure.

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The State of the Art: The Malcolms’ Examination of Straight, Incorporated, Part 3

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a five-part series from Marcus Chatfield, a regular contributor to Points. Here he continues his examination of Straight, Inc., the controversial adolescent drug treatment program that existed from 1976 to 1993. 

Beginning in 1976, the original design of Straight’s milieu was a slightly modified version of The Seed Inc., a program whose methods were also compared to “brainwashing” in the Congressional report, Individual Rights and the Federal Role in Behavior Modification (1974). Specific details about the origins of the actual design of The Seed program are elusive; it was one of many programs initiated in the late 1960s that implemented an array of group methods attributed to those developed by adult members of the therapeutic community, Synanon, founded in 1957 for the treatment of heroin addiction.

But the controversy over “brainwashing” in adolescent reform programs is older than any of the programs that grew out of Synanon; it seems to have started in 1962, over concerns about the Provo Experiment in Delinquency Rehabilitation at the Pinehills Center in Utah County, Utah. According to authors LaMar Empey and Maynard Erickson in their book, The Provo Experiment (1972), in November, 1962, at least one county commissioner had voiced concerns about public funding for the program because it seemed similar to “communist brainwashing.”

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The State of the Art: The Malcolms’ Examination of Straight, Incorporated, Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series from Marcus Chatfield, a regular contributor to Points. Here he continues his examination of Straight, Inc., the controversial adolescent drug treatment program that existed from 1976 to 1993. 

There is no way to account for the discrepancies or misconceptions reflected in the Malcolms’ report. It’s possible that they were ill-informed and the group was given special instructions to behave differently during their visit. They may have had some vested interest in writing a favorable report, but the simplest explanation might come from Dr. Malcolm himself.

In his book, The Case Against the Drugged Mind (1973), he argues that society is in decline because of drugs and alcohol and he acknowledges his lack of composure concerning our future:

I am one student of the subject who does not contemplate the future of the chemophilic society with the same degree of composure as many of my colleagues do. In fact, as the reader will soon note, I am quite unable to appreciate the general rejoicing that seems to attend the observation that we have at last become restrained and civilized about drugs (from the preface).

He seems to have considered all of Western Civilization to be a chemophilic society unraveling because of its illicit cravings, like a compulsive drug user, bent towards self-destruction:

The chemophilic society tends to do the same thing: it compulsively swallows, inserts sniffs and injects its miraculous drugs. Finally this pattern, exactly as in the case of the alcoholic tends to become inappropriate. The many alternatives to intoxication are simply ignored (p. 4).

Like an intervention with a self-harming family member, because the disease is progressive and terminal, our society will need to be rescued – before we can be certain about the cure – we will have to take some risks in order to save humanity:

It is apparent, moreover, that as a consequence of this our society is suffering from progressively more serious psychological and physical distress. We are, in fact very likely at a point in time at which some crucial decisions must be made. And some of these decisions will have to be made without the benefit of all the facts. Our sickness is real enough and we are not likely to recover from it spontaneously (p. 4).

The report doesn’t give any information about Barbara Malcolm, B.A., but considering Dr. Malcolm’s areas of expertise and his convictions, he might have been the perfect person to explain Straight’s methods in a favorable light. But knowing the uniform consistency across the Straight franchise throughout its operation (along with the fact that the Malcolms’ research was conducted during the infamous “Miller Newton years” at Saint Petersburg), it’s difficult to understand how their conclusion – “Straight simply does not engage in brainwashing” – could have been so conclusive and so completely contrary to other expert assessments.

Arnold TrebachDr. Barry Beyerstein and Dr. Bruce Alexander, also Canadian addictions experts, first heard about Straight from American University professor Dr. Arnold Trebach, who is probably the first academician to publish a behind-the-scenes account of the methods used in Straight’s facilities.

In his book The Great Drug War (1987), Trebach devoted an entire chapter to Straight, detailing the story of Fred Collins: his bizarre abduction, the methods of “brainwashing” he witnessed, and his successful lawsuit against the program. While writing about Collins’ experience, Dr. Trebach sent a preliminary draft to Professor Beyerstein, Department of Psychology at Simon Fraser University. Beyerstein responded by comparing Straight’s techniques to those of the Chinese Communists that were used upon United Nations prisoners of war during the Korean War. “The parallels with Straight’s methods are striking,” Beyerstein said.

The Chinese used techniques that Straight seems to have lifted wholesale. It seemed to me as I read your account that someone at Straight had read the literature on brainwashing and systematically set out to apply it (Trebach, 1987, p. 43).

In 1990, Dr. Beyerstein and his colleague Dr. Bruce Alexander were able visit Straight’s Springfield, Virginia facility, observing their methods first-hand. Later that same year, Alexander summed up his observations of Straight in his book, Peaceful Measures: “I believe that Straight’s treatment can be fairly compared with ‘brainwashing’ in prisoner-of-war camps as documented by Brown (1963, chap. 2)” (p. 75). Then he mentions that Straight’s executives had provided him with the Malcolms’ report (along with the Friedman study) as proof that their methods were effective.

Beyerstein noted:

In effect, our hosts at Straight Inc. argued not that their means were so very different from what critics had alleged, but that their noble ends (saving the nation’s children!) justified such harsh and underhanded manipulations. They excused their tactics on the grounds that the dangers of drugs, especially for youth, are so overwhelming that practices normally forbidden in democracies must be permitted in the all-out battle for survival (p. 246).

In 1992, Dr. Beyerstein published a lengthy analysis comparing Straight’s methods to “brainwashing,” referring to the work of Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, Dr. Edgar Schein and cult expert, Dr. Susan Andersen. (The Malcolms referred to their own expertise and to Dr. Malcolm’s own personal criteria, found in The Tyranny of the Group, for their assessment.)

Check back next week for Part 3. Chatfield’s series will run every Thursday. 

The State of the Art: The Malcolms’ Examination of Straight, Incorporated, Part 1

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series from Marcus Chatfield, a regular contributor to Points. Here he continues his examination of Straight, Inc., the controversial adolescent drug treatment program that existed from 1976 to 1993. 

In 2011, I obtained a 31-page report, entitled, An Examination of Straight Incorporated (1981, unpublished), from the Carlton Turner collection in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Archives. Written by Canadian psychiatrist, Dr. Andrew I. Malcolm, and his wife Barbara, their favorable assessment of Straight’s controversial methods was an important endorsement during the early stages of Straight’s national expansion.

Screenshot 2016-06-30 09.35.42
Dr. Andrew I. Malcolm

Along with the Malcolms’ report, I obtained several correspondences between Straight executives and White House officials, describing preparations for Straight’s national expansion and some of their efforts to promote the program in the midst of widespread criticism. One of the reasons Straight was able to franchise its operations across the United States, while simultaneously fighting a growing reputation for abuse, is that the program’s public image was constantly nurtured by White House endorsements during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Straight’s directors invited the Malcolms’ examination because “it was likely” they would “submit an objective and unbiased report and that Straight, as a result, might benefit from [their] observations” (p. 1). The Malcolms’ expertise in drug use, their knowledge of cults, and their lack of involvement with Straight lent authenticity to their endorsement, which was presented to potential donors in a promotional package. Straight’s directors developed this “Solicitation Presentation” (p. 17-18) hoping to raise 18.2 million dollars (p. 16) for the construction of 26 new facilities over a five-year period – 1982 to 1986. “We suspect that money is going to be forthcoming, from diverse sources, for a programme as enlightened and as nationally necessary as is that of Straight,” the Malcolms proclaimed in their endorsement letter (p. 36-37).

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Teaching Points: Surveying United States’ History of Drugs and Alcohol

This past semester, I taught a course called Altered States: Drugs and Alcohol in America at the University at Albany, SUNY. It was my third version of the course. I had the unique opportunity to design two courses from scratch during my first adjunct gig at Utica College in 2010 and 2011. In addition to the drug course, I also designed a survey-level course on sports in US history. Professionally, this trial-by-fire was enormously beneficial and intensely productive, but for better or for (far) worse, my initial test subjects had to suffer through some serious inexperience as I fumbled through course design, reading lists (painfully long ones…), and lectures. I had wanted to hit every major vein in the field (so to speak) and did it without adequate attention to the broader historical context.

So this spring, I decided to stick with the basics. Rather than point out how drug histories stick out of the general narrative of American history, I wanted to make an argument that the histories of a myriad of psychoactive substances can help us better understand some important trends in the history of the United States. Through my doctoral coursework and achievement of candidacy, I came to this section with a much firmer grasp of the historiographical arguments in the field.Read More »

Special Issue: Intoxication, New American Notes Online

Two of our favorite contributors at Points, Dr. Ingrid Walker and Alexine Fleck, have recently co-edited a special issue of NANO, New American Notes Online, a publication of the New York City College of Technology. The issue, released last month, deals with the theme of intoxication, and features articles from our assistant managing editor Kyle Bridge and contributor Michelle McClellan. There’s also a great interview with Craig Reinarman and a discussion if sugar is actually a drug.

You can check the issue out here, and we hope that you enjoy it as much as these Washington state grandmothers enjoyed smoking pot for the first time!

Intoxication

Heroin: The Great Lie

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by guest blogger Liz Greene. Greene is a dog-loving, beard-envying history nerd from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.

Like so many of our modern “wonder drugs”, heroin was born of necessity. Unfortunately, the promise of a non-habit forming solution to morphine addiction turned out to be false, and a new national dependence was formed. This is the story of heroin.

Greene 1

In the 1800’s, opium use had taken a toll on the country. With doctors prescribing opium and its derivatives for everything from coughing to “women’s troubles,” many patients had become addicted to the much used cure-all, leaving doctors and pharmacists scrambling for an alternative.

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Teaching Points: Using “Drugs and Trade” to Teach and Research American History

This winter I have the pleasure of teaching an upper-level history seminar on “Drugs and Trade in American History.” Working with fourteen undergraduates, I am using the opportunity to apply some principles of learner-centered teaching. In doing so, I hope to take a popular buzzword in teaching philosophies and faculty meetings from the realm of jargon and put it into actual practice. I believe the process of completing an original research project – the course’s primary objective – will prompt students to follow their own path into this history and engage with the themes and topics about which they are most passionate, encouraging the kind of deep learning not always possible in classes driven by content alone. I am also convinced a focus on the history of psychoactive substances – from heroin and cocaine to tobacco and alcohol – can be used to highlight general trends in U.S. history, helping students contextualize information and construct broader frameworks for understanding.

GHWB crack
President George H.W. Bush holding a bag of crack cocaine (1989)

While elements of my course may be unfamiliar, the obstacles it faces should not be surprising. First and foremost, if we expect students to succeed with an original research project, they need the proper instruction and sufficient time to complete the task. Students also need a starting point for their own explorations. We cannot forgo content completely, as it is needed to spark interests, provide context, and form research questions. (Not to mention, we are still in the business of communicating important information about the past.) Attempting to give both objectives sufficient in-class attention, however, can require some tricky balancing acts – a problem compounded by the particulars of my university’s ten-week quarter system.

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