Teaching Points: Using Drugs as a Gateway to Historical Methods

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Adam Rathge, director of enrollment strategies and part-time history professor at the University of Dayton. Rathge is also a drug scholar and a longtime friend of Points. He continues our Teaching Points series here, explaining how drug and alcohol history can be brought into the classroom and can be a vehicle for understanding historical methods. Enjoy!

During the coming Spring semester at the University of Dayton, I’ll be teaching HST 299 – Historical Background to Contemporary Issues. This will be my second time teaching the course. It is offered once a year by the History Department and open to students of all majors, with rotating topics driven primarily by faculty expertise and current “headline news” issues. In my case, this means teaching about drugs by focusing on current trends in marijuana legalization and the opioid crisis. From the department’s perspective, the topics are somewhat secondary to the true purpose of the course, which is designed to “focus on the methodology of history as a discipline and on the utility of historical analysis for understanding contemporary political, social and economic issues.” As such, in my version of the course, drugs become the gateway to teaching historical methods.

Over the fifteen-week semester, I divide the course into three, roughly five-week blocks. The first block covers recent developments with marijuana legalization. The second block explores the ongoing opioid crisis. The third and final block provides time for scaffolding the research process on a headline news topic of each student’s choosing. In essence, the first two blocks are designated topics on contemporary issues that allow the class to work through a guided model of historical methodology together, while the third allows them to put those skills into practice for themselves on a topic of interest. Each five-week block, therefore, introduces not only the topic at hand but also skills relevant to reading, writing, and thinking like a historian.

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Many Scholars Think Drug Courts Harm Policy Reform, Not Vice Versa

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Sarah Brady Siff, visiting assistant professor of journalism at Miami University in Ohio. Enjoy!

The current so-called opioid epidemic has placed an urgent frame around drug-related policy debates in Ohio. Here, the current midterm election ballot includes Issue 1, a state constitutional amendment that would convert level 4 and 5 drug felonies—charges for possession and use of drugs—into misdemeanors, somewhat like California’s Proposition 47 in 2014. Ohio would be only the sixth state to take similar measures to reduce drug-related mass incarceration.

So Issue 1 was much on the minds and lips of panelists at “Facing Opioids: Drug Enforcement & Health Policy in Today’s Epidemic,” an Oct. 19 symposium at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. The event reminded me how little I know about current events and policies related to drug control, living, as I and many other historians do, in the past. I appreciated the chance to listen to legal experts in criminal justice and public health talk about Issue 1, drug courts, harm reduction, and other topics related to Ohio’s very high rate of overdose deaths.

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Bad History, Bad Policy: Maybe Historians Should Be Ostracized from Society

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a history PhD student at Southern Illinois University. Enjoy!

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Historians aren’t the first people national publications go for hot-takes. That may be a good thing. But I’ve always been in the camp that says historians should be more active outside of academia. So, I’ve been encouraged by publications like The New York Times and Washington Post reaching out to historians, asking them to analyze the opioid epidemic in its historical context. On the other hand, it’s been frustrating to see those opportunities squandered. An example that caught my eye was Clinton Lawson’s op-ed for the Times, published in May. It’s well-written and pleasant enough to read, but his interpretation of effective policies, then and now, resembles a DEA spokesperson more than a member of the public. Overall, his argument is aesthetic, encouraging us to avoid bad things, like racism or overhyping stories in the news, while at the same time offering the conventional wisdom: penalties and prison.

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Special Response: Over 100 Researchers and Practitioners Respond to Rod Rosenstein on Safe Injection Sites

Editor’s Note: This post is in response to an op-ed published last month in The New York Times by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in which Rosenstein argued against supervised injection sites. 

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Rosenstein’s Op-Ed in the New York Times

In response to the current opioid crisis a number of cities in the United States are considering establishing safe injection sites for users of heroin and other illegal drugs. This is not a new idea. Cities in Canada and Europe currently have them, including a successful program in Vancouver. Safe injection sites provide a place for people to inject illicit drugs under medical supervision. In addition to a clean and warm space, they typically offer sterile injecting equipment and basic healthcare. Many also provide referrals to treatment, housing and other services. Critically, all safe injection sites include trained staff to respond to overdose, leading many experts to refer to them as “overdose prevention sites,” to better reflect this core aim.

In a strongly worded but poorly supported editorial in The New York Times, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently claimed that safe injection sites pose a dangerous risk to public safety and will make the opioid crisis worse. He has offered no evidence for these claims. He has also warned cities, counties and health services that open safe injection sites in the United States that they will be met with “swift and aggressive action” from the Department of Justice.

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Opioids, Addiction, Podcasts, and How You Can Help Points

science history institute The Science History Institute, formed by the merger of the Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Life Sciences Foundation, is a fantastic resource for those interested in researching the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences – topics that are necessary if we’re to understand the role that intoxicants have played in our lives.

Located in Philadelphia with outposts in Europe and California, the Science History Institute has an archive and library, an acclaimed museum, and a variety of fellowship programs that are definitely worth a look.

Through Distillations, their outlet for podcasts, a magazine, videos and blogs, the organization is also a publishing powerhouse. Check out their remarkable longform story on opioids, and subscribe to their podcast. The Institute is launching a new series on the history of addiction treatment, including The Narcotic Farm, Therapeutic Communities like Synanon, methadone maintenance, and buprenorphine/Suboxone. It’s definitely worth a listen.

One more thing: As we mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of excitement around here. Points and the ADHS’s journal, the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, are both working hard to increase and improve our reach over the next few years, with the assistance of the University of Chicago Press.

But we need your help.

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Hot Take: Dr. Oz Defends Medical Marijuana on “Fox & Friends”

Anyone tuning in to Fox & Friends this week was treated to an awkward moment courtesy of Dr. Oz, when he went off-script after plugging his upcoming interview with Ivanka Trump and launched into an impassioned defense of medical marijuana.

“Can I ask you one thing? I talked about the opioid epidemic, but the real story is the hypocrisy around medical marijuana. And just really quickly, medical marijuana – people think it’s a gateway drug to narcotics but it may be the exit drug to get us out of the narcotic epidemic. But we’re not allowed, we’re not allowed to study it, because it’s a schedule I drug. And personally, I believe it could help.”

“Wow,” co-host Steve Doocy intoned, visibly tense. “Hadn’t heard that before.” He reminded viewers to watch Oz’s show and cut to commercial break, clearly wishing the cardiologist had taken co-host Brian Kilmeade’s cue to end the segment twenty seconds prior. Continue reading →