Final Dispatch from Buffalo: Licit Drug Wars

Editors’ Note: The following is the final installment in our series of reports on the biennial ADHS conference held in Buffalo.  Our thanks to Michael Durfee, Nancy Campbell, Joe Gabriel, and Michelle McClellan for their earlier posts.  This time, Joe Spillane tries his hand at post-conference reflection.

Licit Drug Wars

Historians of so-called “licit” drugs face a number of challenges in their work.  Where does that term–licit drugs–even take us, and what does it mean?  In general, of course, it means a focus on regulated-but-legal products of the pharmaceutical industry, but the boundaries of the term are pretty fuzzy.  Still more challenging, it seems to me, is the task of navigating a field where contemporary thought is so dominated by two strong, competing narratives.  The first I’d call the “consumer protection” narrative, in which licit drugs are generally viewed with suspicion as products of an exploitative corporate culture that dupes physicians and victimizes consumers.  The liberal drug warriors, in effect.  The second is what I’d call the “social control/moral panic” narrative, in which efforts to control licit drugs reflects an aggrandizing tendency of state bureaucracies to control all aspects of human behavior, and in which licit drugs (like other substances) are subject to panicked reactions by a society viewing them through the distorting lenses of race, gender, and class.  Four intrepid souls made the journey on this panel.

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More Dispatches from Buffalo: Regulating Alcohol

H2: Regulating Alcohol in the 20th Century and I1: American Alcohol Policy

These two sessions at the Buffalo conference demonstrate how various regulatory systems—including law and policy but also market forces and spatial relationships—interact to shape the availability of alcohol, and also its normalization, in a specific time and place.  I found much to think about across the two sessions, and based on many thoughtful questions raised at each session, the rest of the audience did as well.

Session H2: Regulating Alcohol in the 20th Century

In his engaging presentation on the dramatic drop in the number of cafes in France during World War II, Scott Haine connected the Vichy regime’s enforcement of zoning regulations regarding the location of cafes with new visions for urban planning and concerns about population decline.  He also noted that the context of the war mattered, as competition among cafes increased sharply in the midst of shortages.  The Vichy campaign was not aimed at wine as such, but at cafes as institutions that were considered disreputable.

Dan Malleck analyzed the role of Ontario’s Liquor Control Boards in reconstructing the “citizen drinker” during the 1930s and 1940s, after prohibition ended in Ontario in 1927.  With snazzy graphics, Malleck focused on particular hotels in Toronto that applied for the authority to serve alcohol but were rejected.  Introducing us to both the interior hotel spaces and the streetscape, Malleck used these examples effectively to probe the nature of bureaucracy and its powers of surveillance, as well as to illuminate the “moral geography” of these drinking spaces and the “calculus of need” that underlay the applications.

William Rorabaugh provided a clear and incisive overview of U.S. alcohol policy as it emerged in the aftermath of national Prohibition, concentrating on Washington State.  He emphasized that repeal advocates did not want a free market in alcohol but instead sought strict state control; a preference in the law for lighter drinks; and a three-tier regulatory structure that would prevent vertical integration and forbid producers from becoming too powerful.

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More Dispatches from Buffalo: Popular Culture and the Drug Wars

Editors’ Note: This is the third and final of Michael Durfee’s reports from the recent ADHS conference.  We’re grateful to him for his thoughtful blog posts–hopefully this won’t be the last Points readers hear from Michael.  Read his first two conference dispatches here and here.

Popular Culture and the Drug Wars

On Sunday, a group of enterprising graduate students presented portions of their dissertation’s in progress to those interested in the often overlapping worlds of popular culture and the war on drugs.  Robert Beach adjusted our gaze to the subculture of comic books and superhero’s, chronicling the work of Earl Albert Rowell, a relatively obscure San Francisco based writer and anti-drug lecturer.  Rowell created a superhero named David Dare, cast as a globe-trotting anti-narcotics crusader.  In one tale, Dare is on the trail of morphine peddlers.  In another, Dare finds himself at the locus of all evil and depravity—the marijuana den.  Most interesting however, proved Beach’s assessment of the emergence of the comic book superhero.  For Beach, the superhero came to light amidst a host of institutional crisis addressed in superhero crusades: Police officers, for example, continuously fought the stigma of corruption; doctors often fought against their association with quacks and other apocryphal practitioners. Most notably, the federal government‘s enforcers, embodied in the Prohibition agents of the era, seemed to highlight the inability of national governments to legislate recreational activities.  All told, superhero’s like David Dare served as vehicles to criticize institutional failure and correct the complicated problems mortal human beings simply could not manage themselves.
Following Beach’s treatment of David Dare, I presented on the often overlooked role of Len Bias in the crack panic of 1986. 

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More Dispatches from Buffalo: Gender and Intoxication

Editors’ Note: Today’s report on the ADHS conference comes from guest blogger Nancy Campbell. Some of you may recall Nancy’s remembrance of the late Bob Schuster, which appeared on this site back in February.  We’re grateful to her for this contribution as well.

The “Gender and Intoxication” panel illustrated a familiar theme to which historians of women, drugs, and alcohol are consistently compelled to make—that drug-using women and alcoholic women are judged not only as intemperate but also as failures of femininity and maternity. The ADHS panel presented three very well-grounded and nuanced papers that remind us how often alcoholic women have come to attention only to fade away.
Based on records from 1,500 divorce cases in 3 states, Robin Sager’s paper, “ ‘The Poison That Maddens the Brain’: Intemperance and Domestic Conflict in Antebellum America” is part of her dissertation on the history of marital cruelty. Husbands seeking divorce often claimed that their wives failed to set proper examples of gendered comportment ranging from poor housekeeping to “extravagant” or “wasteful” consumption habits, including those of whiskey and rye. Husbands often adopted a policy of containment by confining wives within the home. Thus did women’s drinking habits become private, hidden from view and neighbors’ prying eyes until a husband sought to divorce his wife on grounds of marital cruelty.

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More Dispatches from Buffalo: Biomedicine and its Critics

Editors’ Note: Here’s the second of Michael Durfee’s reports from the recent ADHS conference.  Readers interested in more about Michael should consult his first post.

Biomedicine and its Critics in Addiction
On Saturday, Caroline Acker spun the tale of methadone’s multiplicity.  Acker presented a case for the five lives of methadone:  First, as a powerful German analgesic and replacement for morphine.  Second, as a detox drug in the Lexington Narcotic Hospital.  Third, as a maintenance drug intended to treat what doctors believed to be the metabolic disease of addiction.  Fourth, as a crime-fighting aid, as methadone decreased the likelihood that addicts might commit crimes to score.  And finally, in its fifth incarnation, methadone tethered itself to the language of harm reduction.  Following the five lives of methadone, Acker astutely informed the audience of concurrent paradigm shifts regarding the causes of addiction.  For Acker, the major shift comes with methadone as a maintenance drug.  In this instance, Acker sees a direct challenge to the classic era’s attempt at eradication and abstinence. 

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