Deadly Intoxication, or: A Series of Odd Coincidences

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“This pussy has teeth; no one should fuck me ever” — Margaret

 

I begin this post with exciting news: Slava Tsukerman and Anne Carlisle are collaborating on either a sequel to or a documentary about the making of Liquid Sky, the 1982 science fiction movie about Margaret, the new wave Edie Sedgewick-inspired club-hopping model who, assisted by her alien lover, kills with her cunt.

A summary is all but impossible, but here goes:

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Framing Addiction: Heroin Then and Now

At a press conference on June 17, 1971 then President Richard Nixon informed his constituents of a troubling menace. “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse.” Nixon also labeled those associated with drug abuse primary enemies of the state. “In order to fight and defeat this enemy,” Nixon charged, “it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.” Sadly, this all-out offensive has been in full bloom under the modern War on Drugs while drug abuse—keeping in step—has also flourished.nixon declaring wod

Earlier that afternoon Nixon gave a special message to Congress, providing more details regarding the scope of the problem. Declaring the “tide of drug abuse” a “national emergency,” Nixon reminded Congress that, “narcotic addiction is a major contributor to crime.” Nixon continued, establishing what is now an oversimplified, rarely analyzed cultural truth: “Narcotic addicts do not ordinarily hold jobs. Instead, they often turn to shoplifting, mugging, burglary, armed robbery, and so on. They also support themselves by starting other people-young people-on drugs.” The addict, and the peddler—often doubling as the same shadowy figure—became cemented as cultural boogeymen. Addicts were either hooking our youth on dangerous drugs or committing other crimes to cop.  Addicts, not society, caused the problem and bore the threat to public safety. Despite his well-documented fiscal commitment to rehabilitation efforts, Nixon’s public rhetoric designed to sway silent majority voters advanced the march towards an ethos of punishment and condemnation. For example, in his same message to Congress, Nixon asked for additional funds to support enforcement efforts “to further tighten the noose around the necks of drug peddlers.”  To borrow from our Managing Editor Emily Dufton, Nixon, “transformed the public image of the drug user into one of a dangerous and anarchic threat to American civilization.”

"They bought it."

“They bought it.”

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Fiction Points: Adam Wilson

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Adam Wilson

Adam Wilson founded and edits the online newspaper The Faster Times and is a regular contributor to The Paris Review Daily. His fiction and nonfiction have found publication in numerous journals and magazines from The Paris Review and Meridian to the New York Times. Wilson contributed to the anthologies Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex (2008); A Friday Night Lights Companion: Love, Loss, and Football in Dillon, Texas (2011); and Promised Lands: New Jewish-American Fiction on Longing and Belonging (2010). His first novel, the comic and bittersweet Flatscreen (2012), follows its young male protagonist through stoner slacking and drug-fueled antics as he fumbles toward establishing a post-high school identity. The National Jewish Book Council chose Flatscreen as a finalist for the 2013 Goldberg Prize for Outstanding Debut Fiction. Wilson also received the Paris Review‘s 2012 Terry Southern Prize for Humor for his contributions to the publication, including the marijuana-laced “What’s Important is Feeling,” which was selected for publication in Best American Short Stories 2012. He is a graduate of Columbia University’s creative writing MFA program and currently teaches at New York University and the Sackett Street Writers Workshop.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you to describe Flatscreen, how do you answer?

It’s about an unlikely friendship between a young, spiritually tested nun and a wheelchair-bound penguin who is addicted to Oxycontin and loves hookers.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about Flatscreen?

Well, there’s certainly a lot of drugs and alcohol in the book! There are a lot of great novels about marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, and LSD (among others), but I don’t know of any others where the primary drug of choice is Oxycontin. I’m not sure my book sheds too much light on the drug itself–it’s mostly about other things–but if you’re looking for OxyFiction, I’m not sure where else you’d go. Continue reading →

Notes from the Field as Massachusetts Does Medical Marijuana

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.

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Last fall, advocates for medical marijuana managed to get it enacted via referendum. Continue reading →

Reflections on “Addicts Who Survived”: Amund Tallaksen

Editor’s note: Our commentary to accompany yesterday’s excerpt from Addicts Who Survived comes from Amund Tallaksen (NB: if you’ve missed any of the series, please check out the series introduction, the first excerpt, and Eric Schneider’s commentary).  Amund is a doctoral candidate in history at Carnegie Mellon University, presently working on a dissertation examining drugs and drug control on post-World War Two New Orleans.  He has graciously taken some time away from the archives in Louisiana to offer these reflections on Willis Butler’s oral history. 

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.

Willis Butler, at the age of remembering

Willis Butler, at the age of remembering

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.

Shreveport, 1919

Shreveport, 1919

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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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The Anti-Methadone Movement: Just Say “Yes” to Heroin

Editor’s Note: Today closes out our series on methadone by guest Grey Ryder, the pen name of a methadone activist and patient who blogs at aboutmethadone.com.  Following on his overview of the drug’s history and discussion of its benefits, this piece looks at recent attempts to make access to methadone maintenance more difficult and costly in the name of “morality.”

Methadone’s success in reducing the harmful effects and behaviors associated with heroin addiction have led to its status as the “gold standard” in opiate addiction treatment.  Despite the phenomenal success of methadone, and its proven track record over the past fifty years, it has made its share of enemies.  Methadone’s foes, once a small group of people primarily concerned with keeping clinics out of their neighborhoods, have coalesced in to a major movement.  They have allied with legislators to enact laws that are posing a very real threat to addiction treatment in this country.

Jesus’ Son

“Disgusting and immoral” was how Senator John McCain described methadone in 1998.  He was seeking support for his “Addiction Free Treatment Act” which would, among other things, cut off Medicaid payments for methadone after six months of treatment.  His wife, Cindy, is an addict herself: she stole the painkillers she was addicted to from her own medical organization.  McCain’s bill (which never became law) was followed by then New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s own crusade against methadone.  Giuliani vowed to shut down New York’s methadone clinics, again describing the treatment as “immoral,” before finally reversing himself in the face of overwhelming criticism.

Methadone opponents across the country are ready to clamp down on treatment.  Many methadone patients – perhaps the majority – are poor and on Medicaid.  States have begun to target this population by cutting off tax dollars for their treatment.

It is true that methadone deaths have risen exponentially over the past several years, due to a massive increase in pain relief prescriptions. Continue reading →