In the first part of this post, I described the manner in which the Treasury Department and its Special Narcotic Committee produced the “mythical number” of one million opiate addicts residing in the United States in 1919. The methods (if that word can be applied here) to arrive at the one million figure involved a laughable mixture of bad statistics and lazy guesswork. Moreover, historian David Courtwright has subsequently marshaled enough empirical evidence to show that the estimate was at least three times larger than the actual figure. As I mentioned in part one, the one million addicts are a classic example of what Max Singer had called in 1971 the “vitality of mythical numbers,” an observation reiterated by economist Peter Reuter in 1987 in his own discussion of the “continued” vitality of mythical numbers. The Treasury Department arrived at a figure that served their organizational interest in maximizing the need for drug control efforts, and they and their political allies worked to disseminate that figure. But that wasn’t the point of my post. Today, in part two, I’d like to consider what happened to the “one million addict” figure, after it was first promoted by the federal government.
Editor’s Note: In this post, Points Assistant Managing Editor Kyle Bridge offers a textual overview of the “Addictions Old and New” conference, convened October 22-23 at the University of Richmond. Follow the link above to see the professionally-recorded presentations in their entirety. Increased specialization in scientific research has yielded nuance but added little coherence to …
There are about a half-dozen Little Free Libraries in my Washington, D.C., neighborhood, where the “take a book, leave a book” ethos lives in elaborate little houses that people post in their front lawns. I love them, and examine each one closely as I pass by on the dog’s daily walks. It’s always interesting to see what shows up, which books languish for days or weeks, and which books call out to me, begging to be brought home.
A few weeks ago, while Bruno investigated some nearby grass, I came across a tattered paperback in the Little Free Library near an elementary school. Its cover was folded and its spine repeatedly creased, to the point where it was almost difficult to read the title. It was obviously, at one point at least, a well-loved book. But it was the title that stopped me and forced me to slip the book into my pocket: Eating Right to Live Sober, by Katherine Ketcham and L. Ann Mueller, M.D.
Eating Right to live Sober was published in 1983, during a moment that James R. Milam, Ph.D., author of Under the Influence (co-written with Ketcham) and cofounder of Milam Recovery Center, called a “turning point in the history of alcoholism.” It was in the early 1980s that Milam saw alcoholism shedding its skin as a purely psychiatric disease, when it was beginning to be understood as a mental and physical condition. This meant that new treatments, ones that were more holistically attuned, were necessary to treat its expanding definition. “Everyone who understands alcoholism as a disease also needs to know what to do about it,” Milam explained in his introduction. Ketcham and Mueller’s book was “valid core material to build on.”
(Editor’s Note: Today’s post is brought to you by our contributing editor Matthew June.)
For your consideration… Oscar contenders are hitting theaters, awards season is coming, and more films than you might realize have ties to the history of U.S. drug policy. Although the film barely shows any trafficking and rarely even mentions drugs, the context of Sicario will be obvious to most viewers. Hyper-realistic, violent, and morally ambiguous, the film plumbs the depths of our failed drug war and its devastating consequences for the U.S.-Mexico border region. Without much hope for a viable solution, the film also offers no explanation for why the U.S. finds itself in this position.
Next on the docket for Academy voters, Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies arrives in theaters this weekend. At first glance, the latest starring vehicle for Tom Hanks might seem like the antithesis of Sicario. It is a period-piece drama with a moral protagonist helping Cold War America retrieve one of its heroes. Bridge of Spies is based on the life of former Nuremburg attorney, James B. Donovan (Hanks), who successfully negotiated the release of Captain Francis Gary Powers when the Soviet Union shot down his U-2 spy plane. After this mission – and the focus of Spielberg’s film – ended, however, Donovan took on another assignment that gave him an important supporting role in the development of federal drug policy. Exploring that overlooked history, in turn, offers another vantage for surveying the blighted backdrop of Sicario.
Editor’s Note: Two upcoming opportunities for ADHS scholars to gather together and discuss ideas. Submit papers for conferences in Ohio (April 2016) and Illinois (July 2016). Contact information for both, below. Alcohol and Drugs History Society at the Ohio Academy of History April 1-2, 2016 Kent State University – Stark Campus Call for Papers The …
Editor’s Note: In this, our last installment of the Points roundtable on Howard Becker’s Becoming a Marihuana User, we are thrilled to welcome the author himself. Here, Becker responds to our previous contributors and offers some insights of his own.
We’d also like to take this opportunity to once again thank Nancy Campbell, Mary Jane Gibson, Amanda Reiman, Cookie Woolner and Carl Hart for their intriguing, thought-provoking and entertaining contributions. We are honored to count you as members of the Points family.
I have never been a “marijuana expert,” certainly never claimed to be such a thing. But I was, for quite a while, the only sociologist who had ever actually published anything about it. So, when it did become a legitimate topic of study and big shots and politicians convoked meetings to decide on scientific matters related to the subject, the attendees mostly consisted of physiologists and pharmacologists and psychologists. But, just to avoid troubles, the organizers of these events always thought they should have a social scientist and for quite a while I was the only one who had the slightest claim to be there. Eventually, of course, plenty of others joined me, including people like the anthropologist Mike Agar. Nancy Campbell talked with me about that phase of the thing and she did an excellent of getting me to tell about the politics of that period, which was pretty funny.
As a result of that phase of my “being an expert,” I became more expert than I had been by learning a lot from hanging around between meeting sessions with people like Mike and Andy Weil, who were doing research on the drug. A whole apparatus had been built up out of people who had met at such events and thus come to understand the politics involved at the level of science and research (also covered in my interview with Nancy Campbell). In addition, I was part of the informal information exchange created by Allen Ginsberg, who traveled constantly and kept his eye on who was doing research about what. He would call me when he came through Chicago to ask if I knew about so-and-so who had some interesting findings on this or that and wanting to know if I had anything new to tell him.
Well, I didn’t, not really, because my interests had moved on to other areas of activity, like art. But the basic ideas that I got out of making sense of the marijuana experience stayed with me because they traveled well and turned out to be useful in quite different areas. Most recently I devoted a chapter in What About Mozart? What About Murder?, to a sort of updating and generalizing of what I learned from the work I did fifty years ago, pointing out how it helps make sense out of a lot of other things, not just more recently invented substances but even what happens to people climbing Mt. Everest (where there isn’t a whole lot of oxygen in the air) and other situations where the ordinary inputs to our physical experiences take new values and produce novel feelings.
At the intersection of race, space, class and hoops Jalen Anthony Rose entered the national imagination in the twilight of the Crack Era. Depending on where you stood in the culture wars, Rose and his teammates—dubbed the Fab Five—were cultural icons or yet another sign of a culture in decline. Broadcasting personality Dick Vitale bemoaned the team’s aesthetic, blaming their “ugly black socks,” baggy shorts and shaved heads. From Vitale’s perspective people didn’t look at the young black boys as “that clean cut, that All-American sort of guys.” Basketball legend Bill Walton once known for his anti-establishment politics and counterculture leanings rankled that the team “epitomized what is wrong with a lot of basketball players.” Something was clearly different about this young team. Beat writer Brian Burwell assessed the situation best: “It was all generational and cultural. If you were young and black, you were like, ‘those are my boys.’ If you were old and white, you were going, ‘oh my god the criminals are taking over our sports and influencing our children. Get away from the TV.’”
Ice Cube, a cultural icon in his own right, referenced the teams “style, swagger and attitude.” In a “cultural sense” Ice Cube argued, “they represented the homeboys and the homegirls.” Of the five, no member of the team represented the brash defiance of the streets more than Jalen Rose. A proud graduate of Detroit’s Southwestern High School, Rose grew up poor, raised by a single mother. Rose and his father—NBA star Jimmy Walker—would never meet. Despite growing up around dope houses and shooting galleries, Rose stuck to the basketball courts at the recreation center of St. Cecilia’s. Regardless of his personal merit, Rose was still a kid from the hood. As such he nearly became prey in the broader War on Drugs.
October 4, 1992 was just another day in Southwest Detroit. Jalen and three friends, Lamont Wheeler, Garland Royall and Daman Holmes gathered on a Sunday morning at the house of their high school friend, Frederick Hogan. A conspiracy to play video games. With John Madden in the Sega Genesis, the boys were ready to relax. Unfortunately, October 4, 1992 was indeed just another day in Southwest Detroit. Police piled through the unlocked door yelling, “Police! Search Warrant!” This was a drug raid but this was not a crackhouse. Nonetheless, the house and their persons were searched. Rose, per usual, had no drugs or paraphernalia on him. Ditto for three of the other boys, including Frederick Hogan, the owner of the house he inherited from his recently deceased mother. The police were about to come up empty.