The kids are going to be alright. Maybe: The (very) complicated portrayal of drug addiction in “Euphoria”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

In the opening scene of the first episode of HBO’s controversial series Euphoria (2019), Rue (Zendaya), the show’s omniscient, unreliable narrator, recalls the last time she felt safe. “I was once happy, content, sloshing around in my own primordial pool,” she laconically claims. “Then one day, for reasons beyond my control, I was repeatedly crushed over and over by the cruel cervix of my mother . . . I put up a good fight, but I lost for the first time—but not the last.” Reluctantly thrust into an anxious post-9/11 world, Rue laments being crushed yet again by more circumstances even further beyond her control, coming of age in the shadow of a financial recession and the omnipresent threat of school shootings. As a toddler she was diagnosed with numerous mental disorders, her inner turmoil seemingly reflecting the instability of the era: ADHD, OCD, social anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder. A cornucopia of drugs was prescribed to address a problem that baffled experts, priming her for drug abuse well before she clandestinely discovered the tranquility provided by her dying father’s pain medications. Due to this bewildering amount of pharmaceuticals, Rue mournfully confesses to not remembering much of anything about her early adolescence other than “that the world moved fast and my brain moved slow.”

The only way to deal with the unwanted burden of navigating her tumultuous world, she informs viewers in a monotone voiceover, is to numb oneself to its reality, to render oneself incapable of caring so as not to hurt by creating a state of unfeeling. And opiates provided just the kind of emotional refuge she needed to escape from what she considered a broken society for which no one had prepared her. “I just showed up one day without a map or a compass, or to be honest, anyone capable of giving one iota of good fucking advice. And I know it all may seem sad, but guess what? I didn’t build this system. Nor did I fuck it up.” In Rue’s mind, recreational drug use was a perfectly acceptable response to having to cope with the sick reality imposed upon her, Oxycodone offering a means to, at the very least, get by, to survive another day, to “outrun,” as she put it, “your anxiety.” It is a kind of agency, albeit a sad and ultimately destructive kind, for reclaiming control in a social order that afforded her none. “I found a way to live,” she asserts. “Will it kill me? I dunno.”

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Don’t forget to go home: Rainald Goetz’s “Rave”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and is currently a Research Associate at the University of Strathclyde. 

“Meet girls. Take drugs. Listen to music.” These three short sentences function as the plot summary and the marketing blurb for Rainald Goetz’s 1998 novel Rave, newly translated into English by Adrian Nathan West. The “girls” are young, the “drugs” are strong, and the “music” is pounding. That much we know, but little else is clear. “Autofiction” before Karl Ove Knausgård or Rachel Cusk, Goetz’s protagonist “Rainald” drifts from club to industry shin-dig to Balearic island and back again, chugging beers, popping pills and chatting nonsense along the way.

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Drug Reform in a Biden Administration?

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

In August, the DNC Convention depicted Joe Biden as “Uncle Joe,” an empathetic figure who faced adversity, experienced personal tragedy and is generally kind of a goofball, an elderly gentleman telling rambling stories about how movie popcorn tasted better in the 1950s. In late September—in another moment of empathy—the only part of the presidential debate that received positive press coverage came when the former Vice President defended his son and said, “My son, like a lot of people at home, had a drug problem. He’s overtaking it. He’s fixed it. He’s working on it. And I’m proud of him; I’m proud of my son.” Jonathan Reiss, writing for Rolling Stone, was one among many in the press who thought this moment might potentially signal a sea change for drug policy:

“Having the son of the president represent the recovery community is a new paradigm. This wouldn’t be the president’s distant kin quietly slipping into a million-dollar rehab for 28 days. This would be the president’s son acknowledging that he is in recovery, that he has smoked crack and come out the other end of that indelibly narrow glass tunnel. Merely acknowledging the problem is profoundly meaningful — the first of the twelve steps.

“Addiction is a realm where reform often comes from those who have been through it. If Hunter continues to wear the label of ‘addict’ without shame, lending his experience and the experience of others in recovery to pertinent policy discussions, this could be a ray of optimism during bleak times for those in recovery. Especially now, when so many people are confronting one of the bleakest times in modern history.”

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Joe Biden and Drug Control: A More Complete Picture (Part 2—the 1980s)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC). She continues the series on Joe Biden’s drug policy she started last week.

It was an election year—1980—but Senator Joe Biden was not up for reelection. His interest and expertise in drug policy were sharper than ever, and his membership on the Foreign Relations and  Judiciary committees (where he chaired subcommittees on European affairs and criminal justice) enabled him to pursue the drugs issue from both the international/supply side and the domestic/demand side. 

Biden had been immersed in international Cold War politics while working on agreements with the Soviet Union and others to curb the nuclear arms race (the SALT treaties). At the same time, he accepted the duty of oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) starting in 1978, as the first experimental decade of massive federal funding for law enforcement was drawing to a close. Though setbacks would occur, the early 1980s presented Biden with a unique opportunity to create more robust federal drug control. 

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Joe Biden and Drug Control: A More Complete Picture (Part 1—the 1970s)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC). As we prepare for the election next month, her examination of Joe Biden’s historical views on drug policy will continue next week.

Okay, here’s the deal: Joe Biden is a right-leaning moderate on drug control. Always has been. No surprise there.

However, examples of Biden’s past interest and instrumentality in drug policy are surprisingly copious. Spanning a half-century, these facts somehow seem both historical and ongoing. Progressives and libertarians must face the improbability of true policy reform from someone who has waged so much war on drugs for so very long. 

Biden consistently held three broad positions during the 1970s: (1) the harms of recreational drug use were severe and urgent, especially because drugs caused crime; (2) the United States should spend money on drug control, but wisely; and (3) cannabis was really not so bad. The first decade of Biden’s career in national politics showed him that drug control was popular with voters, but difficult to manage.

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Points Election Update

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

It almost seems, given the existence of much more pressing matters, that a Points election preview is not even worth our time. As a personal matter, I’ll take that stance explicitly at the end of all of this. But as a drug historian, writing to folks interested in drug policies, such matters are always worth some of our time. Let’s take a quick break from Trump’s COVID diagnosis, two recent debates and a cancelled third, and ongoing conflict over Trump’s SCOTUS nomination, and review some of the key drug policy issues that will figure into the 2020 election season.

Trump’s criminal justice, like much of his policy strategies, center on public relations and marketing

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America’s Weed Industry Still Has a Big Environmental Problem

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from new contributing editor Nick Johnson. Johnson is a historian and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. His book Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (2017) is a history of cannabis agriculture that explores the environmental and social dynamics of the nation’s most controversial crop. He also blogs (and occasionally podcasts!) about all things cannabis on his website, Hempirical Evidence.

It is admittedly difficult to begin any kind of essay in 2020, but writing about environmental issues this year is especially challenging, because there are so many ongoing calamities that I am loathe to add to the list.

However, whether they are wildfires, hurricanes, or disease, human behavior has contributed to these problems, so it is incumbent on us to keep taking stock of how our actions affect our environment.

On that note, I will again trot out the Very Tired Bad News Bear of 2020: cannabis agriculture remains a big environmental problem, and the industry’s increasing profitability means that we need to keep talking about it, even amid the year’s broader cataclysm.

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Listen to Science? Since When?

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

Every day, on television or doom-scrolling through Twitter, some Democratic Party official rails against Trump for ignoring “science” and putting the country at risk by his failure to “listen to the scientists.” It is true. Though, to be fair, Trump has never claimed to respect science or made any pretense that it would influence his policy decisions. Conversely, since the coronavirus outbreak, Biden has really hammered home the “public health” message. His campaign’s website, in a bullet point filler section, pledges that, if elected, the Biden administration will “ensure public health decisions are made by public health professions and not politicians.” Don’t take this seriously. 

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