Glatt and Popper in Helsinki: A Personal Anecdote

In June, 1975, I had the honor to represent Berkeley’s Alcohol Research Group (ARG), where I then worked, at the 21st International Institute on the Prevention and Treatment of Alcoholism, in Helsinki.(1)  I presented a paper to the Epidemiology Section meeting (2) — a group that would later split off and become the Kettil Bruun Society …

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What Time Do You Want it to Be? Finessing Science, Part Two

In the first segment of this post, Ron Roizen explored the congenial relationship between the free and easy scientific method that prevailed at the Yale School during the late 1940s and Marty Mann’s message-driven National Council on Alcoholism.  The second installment in his story brings in another character– Alcoholics Anonymous– and shows how they all …

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Meth and Moral Panics, Part Three

Meth and Moral Panics, Part One and Part Two led us to the question of whether and how we ought to arbitrate the real in assessing the ‘disproportionate response’ that moral panics require. In this post, we’ll look at efforts to do just this with respect to methamphetamine in the contemporary United States, and conclude with three suggestions for refashioning the relationship of moral panic studies to actual behavior.

An abundance of published works tie the methamphetamine response to the moral panic concept, most often in studies that don’t really fit the framework (see my earlier post for more on this). Travis Linnemann’s fascinating examination of the gendered reporting of methamphetamine in the Midwest is a good example; in the end, he’s not really all that interested in arbitrating the real. Consider his observation when discussing media portraits of a masculine/feminine dichotomy of work within the methamphetamine trade: “it is not clear whether this division of labor is entirely constructed by the media or if the data depict actual differences in duties. Regardless, the mediated depictions illustrate perceived differences in duties.” (1) Likewise, the sophisticated study of Canadian media by Susan Boyd and Connie I. Carter invokes the drug panic concept, but largely confines itself to the general observation that media coverage avoids and even forecloses “discussion of the broader social, cultural, and economic factors that affect users’ lives, including lack of housing, healthcare, and meaningful employment opportunities.” (2) Jack Shafer, writing Slate‘s Press Box column, has presented some of the best journalistic accounts of error and disproportion, here and here and here—hectoring, at times even begging, his colleagues to take a more careful, evidence-based approach to their reporting of the methamphetamine problem.

The academic study that most explicitly searches for the gap between moral panic and objective reality is Robert R. Weidner’s “Methamphetamine in Three Small Midwestern Cities: Evidence of a Moral Panic,” from the September, 2009 issue of the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Weidner correctly observes that all of this moral panic talk would appear to demand some effort at sorting out the gap between meth panic and meth reality, and that doing so is no easy task (indeed, Weidner cites the work of several scholars who have made the case that the quest to find disproportion “is so laden with ontological and methodological difficulties as to render it virtually useless as an analytical guiding light.”). (4)

Weidner’s study “examined the existence of disproportionality” by comparing media coverage of meth relative to other illegal drugs with the prevalence of treatment admissions for meth relative to other illegal drugs in three cities (Bismarck, North Dakota; Springfield, Illinois; Topeka, Kansas). Media coverage data came from newspaper articles. Prevalence of treatment admissions came from the Treatment Episode Data Set [TEDS], “the only national-level information on the prevalence of substance abuse that is disaggregated for hundreds of MSAs.” Unfortunately, the TEDS data has one absurdly distorting quality—marijuana “treatment” cases overwhelm the data set. Nearly HALF (48%) of all treatment cases during the entire period for all three cities combined were for marijuana, mostly cases in which defendants were “diverted” from the criminal justice system into “treatment.” If coverage of marijuana was not correspondingly high in newspaper accounts (and it wasn’t), one is more inclined to praise editors for sound judgment than to attribute moral panic! By the numbers, the rest of the “real” data is similarly problematic–meth lab seizures and state-level drug self-reports. In the end, Weidner finds his moral panic with criticisms of “drug-scare” rhetoric (the use of terms like “epidemic” “plague” and “scourge”) and claims of addictiveness. A noble effort, but a dispiriting result in the quest to locate disproportion.

So, what do we do now? Discard the moral panic concept?

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What Time Do You Want It To Be? Finessing Science at the National Council on Alcoholism and at Yale

Over the course of the second half of the 20th century Mrs. Marty Mann and her National Council on Alcohol (NCA) became the best known public advocates of the disease concept of alcoholism in the United States.  Mann’s great campaign, however, harbored a vexing rhetorical weakness.

All the News that’s Fit to Print

From its outset–with NCA’s (1) launch in the autumn of 1944–Mann’s organization purported to convey ostensibly sound scientific knowledge and facts about alcoholism to the American public.  Mann was a publicist, not a scientist; more to the point, scientific knowledge about alcoholism (including even whether such a phenomenon might confidently be said to exist) was scant and unreliable.  This awkward behind-the-scenes circumstance created some equally awkward and unlikely back-stage interactions between NCA and the Yale Center of Alcohol Studies. 

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OxyContext: “Hillbilly Heroin” and the Kentucky Crime Scare of the Late 1990s

As we continue in our quest to get to the bottom of the current moment’s hysteria about “pill mills,” Points is delighted to have as a guest blogger Kenneth D. Tunnell, talking about the ways in which OxyContin abuse was portrayed in the media the first time people got all worked up over it.   …

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Boxing, Crack, Class, and Crisis in *The Fighter*

Guest blogger Eoin Cannon reported on Mickey Ward and Dick Ecklund before David O. Russell dramatized their lives last year in The Fighter.  What a difference a major motion picture makes.

Despite coming a few months late to the party, I offer here some thoughts about  The Fighter, because the film combines three of the specific interests that brought me into academia: addiction, sports, and cities.  I acquired those interests in part through contact with the actual source materials of the film: Mickey Ward, crack cocaine recovery, and the city of Lowell.

Before going to graduate school I was a reporter for a weekly newspaper in a Boston neighborhood, from which I also branched out into freelance writing on the very small world of New England boxing.

Mickey Ward & Dick Eklund, heading into Ward’s final fight. Caesar’s Palace, Atlantic City, June 7, 2003. (Photo courtesy Eoin Cannon)

I followed the second half of Ward’s career, and wrote a piece upon his retirement about the journey traveled by him and his brother Dick Eklund, the characters in The Fighter played by Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. This work informed my first academic publication, on the strategic construction of white ethnicity in the sports entertainment industry. Similarly, my scholarly interest in the cultural history of addiction began in observations about the recovery subcultures in hard-luck neighborhoods of Boston and nearby cities, including Lowell.

So I was eager to see The Fighter for a number of reasons, both the kind scholars have when a film covers their subject matter, and the kind that people have when part of their world becomes the set for a Hollywood movie. I was particularly interested in how the film would weave these different narrative threads together and what overarching frame it might invoke.

What jumped out at me in this regard was its use of the 1995 documentary High on Crack Street to shape the story of Eklund’s crack addiction and recovery.

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New DOJ Attack on State Medical Marijuana Laws Could Land Feds Back in Court

Guest blogger Allen Hopper ponders the impact of letters sent recently by U.S. Attorneys to officials in medical marijuana states: will they affect an ACLU lawsuit alleging 10th amendment violations in the federal government’s prosecution of a Santa Cruz medical marijuana collective? or the enforcement of medical marijuana laws more generally? Hopper is the Police Practices Director for the ACLU of Northern California and previously coordinated drug policy-related litigation as the Litigation Director for the National ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project.  A nationally recognized expert on marijuana law reform, he has been quoted extensively in the media, worked cases in state and federal courts, and testified before legislative committees on issues related to the intersection of federal and state drug laws. 

Allen Hopper

U.S. Attorneys in at least seven states recently sent letters to state government officials threatening to vigorously prosecute medical marijuana distribution–regardless of individual state law protections. Patient advocates have rightly cried foul, pointing to the so-called “Ogden Memo”—an October 2009 DOJ letter instructing federal prosecutors to refocus enforcement efforts away from providers operating in accordance with state medical marijuana laws. Despite the ominous sabre rattling, however, there have been no recent raids on state-registered dispensaries in any of the states that tightly regulate medical marijuana distribution.

So, what are these threatening new letters really about? In a letter to Attorney General Holder last week, the ACLU suggested that the federal government is improperly attempting to influence the states’ legislative processes. The ACLU points out that several of these letters landed on state officials’ desks just as new state laws regulating medical marijuana were about to be enacted. The Governor of Washington, for instance, vetoed a popular medical marijuana bill after receiving a letter from U.S. Attorneys threatening to prosecute state officials who license and regulate dispensaries. If the ACLU is right about the real purpose behind these U.S. Attorney letters, the feds may be opening a can of worms they’ll wish they hadn’t. A federal lawsuit put on hold in 2009 after the DOJ issued the Ogden Memo could be reopened, with court-ordered discovery into federal enforcement practices.

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Cherry-Picking the History of the Alcoholism Movement (1)

Mann-book-coverSometimes useful pieces of historical evidence may be found lying around in plain sight.  A case in point concerns the relationship between Alcoholics Anonymous and the disease concept of alcoholism.  In 2002, Ernest Kurtz, A.A.’s distinguished academic historian, published a well-argued article asserting that the disease concept of alcoholism was not one of A.A.’s core philosophical commitments (2).  Yet – as Kurtz also noted — the disease concept has been part of A.A.’s operational vernacular for a long time.  Sociologist Annette R. Smith has recently suggested that the acceptance of the disease concept is a crucial step in a new A.A. member’s conversion to an alcoholic identity (3).  If both Kurtz and Smith are correct–and I believe they are–then how did an idea that is not part of the group’s core philosophy nevertheless become a central element in A.A.’s actual praxis?

A key part of the answer lies in the promotional campaign of Mrs. Marty Mann.  In 1944, Mann was employed by Howard W. Haggard and E.M. Jellinek at the Yale Center of Alcohol Studies to promote the disease concept to the American public.  The Yale group’s ultimate aim for Mann’s campaign was the establishment of a single-disease advocacy organization for alcoholism treatment and research enterprises – an organization not unlike the American Cancer Society or the American Lung Association.  This advocacy group, Yale leadership hoped, would in due course provide a stream of donations for the support of their own alcohol-related research.  The Yale group’s plan for Mann doubtless sprang in large part from a report prepared by Dwight Anderson for the Research Council on Problems of Alcohol, later published in a 1942 article titled “Alcohol and Public Opinion” (4).  Anderson argued that the new scientific approach to alcohol-related problems proffered by the Research Council (and, by extension, the Yale group) needed a new symbol to differentiate itself unmistakably from the old vying “dry” and “wet” camps of the previous era.  The idea that the alcoholic was “a sick man,” Anderson contended, would perform very nicely as that new symbol.Yet Mann’s campaign was dogged by a crucial ambiguity. 

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