Points Interview: “The Monopoly Option: Obsolescent or a ‘Best Buy’ in Alcohol and Other Drug Control?” with Robin Room

Editor’s Note: Points continues its series of interviews with authors from the latest issue of ADHS’s journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (vol. 34, no. 2; Fall 2020), published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Robin Room, Distinguished Professor at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University (Melbourne, Australia). You can see his article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history. 

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

Dr. Robin Room

I’m an Australian, now back in Australia for 15 years, but I spent more than 30 years in the US and 7 years each in Canada and Sweden along the way. I still work—primarily at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University in Melbourne. But I also have a fractional appointment at the Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs at Stockholm University. 

I’m a sociologist by trade, who has mostly worked on alcohol, drugs, and gambling, using both quantitative data (population surveys, and social and health agency records and statistics) and qualitative data (documents, etc.) I’ve always been interested in history, although I’ve had very little formal historical training. My long-ago dissertation was about governing images of alcohol and drug problems. Among other things, this involved looking at the rise of the concept of alcoholism as a way that the US “alcoholism movement” could talk about alcohol problems in American society in the wake of two generations of middle-class youth rebellions against temperance and prohibition.

Given my background and trajectory, I have always been interested in cross-cultural comparisons, and I was a member of the founding generation of the Kettil Bruun Society for Social and Epidemiological Research on Alcohol, the main international society in its field…. You can find a vita and quite a lot of my stuff at www.robinroom.net

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

 As a graduate student at UC Berkeley, I switched from English literature to sociology, and I had to take a one-year course in survey research methods (survey research was going to turn sociology into a “Real Science”!). On the strength of that course, I got a two-month summer job on the California Drinking Practices Study, which had been funded to look at drinking practices in the general population—sociologists had convinced the US government of the importance of looking beyond alcoholics to understand problems with alcohol in the US. And I stayed on in the field after that.

Alcohol studies is an interesting area, because drinking and alcohol reaches into so many different fields—biology, tourism research, criminology, literary studies, international law, traffic engineering, history—you name it, there’s an alcohol aspect to it, which can be interesting to study. But alcohol is pretty peripheral to any particular academic discipline, and, for that matter, any profession, so the leaders in the discipline or profession won’t get too upset about an outsider messing around in “their” territory.

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Points Interview: “The Drug War Dialectic in Early Twentieth-Century Chicago” with Richard Del Rio

Editor’s Note: Points continues its series of interviews with authors from the latest issue of ADHS’s journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (vol. 34, no. 2; Fall 2020), published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Richard Del Rio, a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow within the Department of Behavioral Science and Social Medicine at the Florida State University College of Medicine. You can see his article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history. 

Dr. Richard Del Rio
Richard Del Rio

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

Yikes! In my view you’re starting with the hardest part of this interview. In the professional sense, I am a historian trained in the social history of the United States and the histories of Latinx and African American peoples. My academic specialty and research focus is to contribute to these fields of history through the stories of pharmaceuticals and drugs. In case you’re asking for something a little more personal, I’ll just mention that I’m a lover of Caribbean culture, admirer of martial arts, enjoy building community/fellowship, and always try to learn from others. And just in case there are any gamers checking this interview, when I have the time for it (and I rarely do), I really enjoy a competitive bout of Super Smash Bros.!

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

Scholars across academic disciplines have recognized the pervasive influence of the United States’ policy regime known as the “War on Drugs” in the late twentieth century. Along wIth the more recent “War on Terror,” the War on Drugs has served as an important pretext for American foreign interventions and international ambitions. Domestically, I think the broad public calls for reforms to our drug laws and the complete legalization of cannabis highlight the recognition that the War on Drug’s impact on the public’s health and wealth was mostly damaging. Its emphasis on punishment and supply side controls contributed to the militarization of police, the alienation of the citizens they serve, and the controversial growth of publicly traded corrections companies. There is a growing recognition that we need some new ideas about how to approach or shape the public’s consumption of strong, potentially addictive, psychoactive drugs. I am part of a generation of historians in my field who have been working to understand “how did things get so bad in the first place?”

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Points Interview: “Reframing Bummer Trips: Scientific and Cultural Explanations to Adverse Reactions to Psychedelic Drug Use” with Erika Dyck

Editor’s Note: Points continues its series of interviews with authors from the latest issue of ADHS’s journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (vol. 34, no. 2; Fall 2020), published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Erika Dyck, Professor and Canada Research Chair in the History of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She co-authored the article, “Reframing Bummer Trips,” with Dr. Chris Elcock. You can see their article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history. 

Dr. Erika Dyck
Erika Dyck

Tell readers a little bit about yourself (and your co-author)

Chris was a PhD student at the University of Saskatchewan, and I was his supervisor when we began thinking about this topic. We were both interested in the history of psychedelic drugs, me from the perspective of medical history, and Chris more so from the perspective of cultural history. We started by comparing notes on how “bad trips” were described in different ways—as catastrophic in public health literature, but also as complex and even beneficial experiences, according to some consumers of psychedelics. We were curious about how the idea of “bad trips” became a short hand for understanding the values placed on psychedelics.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

My own interest in drugs, and their history, stems much less from personal experience than many people might imagine. For me, it was always the politics of drug use, regulation, and criminalization that intrigued me the most. Or how people claimed to know about drugs.

Why do some drugs have a reputation for causing irreparable harm in some circles, yet have a certain degree of social capital, or even cultural caché, in another context? I was interested in how some drugs became the object of medical fascination but had different reputations or characters once they left the clinic.

This set me on a path of examining LSD and mescaline experiments conducted in Saskatchewan, Canada, during the 1950s. Saskatchewan was also place that had claimed the first socialist government in North America—a government, it turns out, that invested in psychedelic research and saw potential in the research for reforming mental health care. Since then, I have been curious about how psychedelics have been framed as a political tool or weapon—drugs that, on one hand, allegedly inspire tolerance, enlightenment, and self reflection, but, conversely, also drugs that trigger violence, narcissism, and reckless behaviour. These polarizing views about drugs and their users have significant consequences for how we view drugs as medicines or as substances of abuse—but also for how we consider drug users and pushers, or patients and psychiatrists and their interactions with psychedelics.

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80 Years of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy

Editor’s note: On January 1, 2021, the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP) joined the Alcohol and Drugs History Society as a co-sponsor of Points. On the occasion of AIHP’s 80th birthday on Friday, January 22, 2021, we would like to take the opportunity to introduce the past and the present of AIHP to the readers of Points. Today’s post is by Dr. Greg Higby, the former longtime AIHP Executive Director. In his current roles as the AIHP Fischelis Scholar and as a Senior Curator at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, Dr. Higby continues to manage and maintain the historical collections at AIHP and the UW School of Pharmacy in his semi-retirement. Happy Birthday, AIHP!

AIHP Logo

On January 22, 1941, six men gathered in a pharmacognosy laboratory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and founded the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. Its explicit purpose was to serve as a center for pharmaco-historical research and information. Its implicit purpose was to provide an academic home for scholar-pharmacist Dr. George Urdang, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. Urdang had fled Berlin in 1938, making his way to New York, where he obtained an American pharmacy degree from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy at age 57.

Soon afterward, in the summer of 1939, Wisconsin pharmacy professor Edward Kremers recruited Urdang to Madison to help complete a comprehensive history of pharmacy textbook based on materials Kremers had been collecting for decades. After the publication of Kremers and Urdang’s History of Pharmacy by Lippincott in 1940, the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy was established with Urdang as its first Director.

Later in 1941, an anonymous dispatch—no doubt written by Urdang—announced the establishment of the new historical society in Madison, Wisconsin, and outlined the purposes of this “center for all pharmaco-historical work”:

  1. To aid in the collection, selection, arrangement, and exhibition of pharmaceutico-historical material and—as far as possible—to catalogue and to inventory this material;
  2. To give the research worker in the field of historical pharmacy the possibility to discuss his projects, to get advice on literature, and to publish the manuscripts concerned;
  3. To furnish information and means for historical instruction at the Colleges of Pharmacy;
  4. To furnish material for popular pharmaceutico-historical information directly to the general public (journals, newspapers, etc.), or to individual pharmacists for use in their social or professional relations;
  5. To cooperate with the historians of the related sciences and professions, especially of medicine, in order to promote the mutual scientific, professional, and social understanding and progress derived from such a cooperation.
George Urdang and students in 1950
In addition to serving as AIHP’s Director, George Urdang (second from right) was hired as a Professor by the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy in 1947. He soon established the first History of Pharmacy graduate program in the United States, and he is seen here with his first cohort of graduate students, including future AIHP Executive Director Glenn Sonnedecker (left). Image courtesy of AIHP Kremers Reference Files.

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Points Interview Flashback: David Courtwright

Editor’s note: In conjunction with the release yesterday of the paperback version of The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business (Belknap, 2021), Points is re-running this June 2019 interview with author David Courtwright. Points author interviews begin with the set question: “Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.” David Courtwright …

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Points Interview: “Just Say Know: A Social History of How Naloxone Came to Matter,” with Nancy Campbell

Editor’s Note: Starting today and running periodically over the next month, Points will feature interviews with authors from the latest issue of ADHS’s journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (vol. 34, no. 2; Fall 2020), published by the University of Chicago Press. Today’s post by Dr. Nancy Campbell reflects on both her keynote address at the 2019 ADHS biennial conference in Shanghai and on learning how to promote a book during the early days of a global pandemic. Dr. Campbell is Professor & Department Head, Science and Technology Studies, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. You can see her keynote address here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or to request access to this article or any other article from SHAD

Nancy Campbell in Shanghai
Nancy Campbell at the Humble Administrators Garden in Suzhou, China.

Delivered steps from Shanghai University, my 2019 ADHS keynote address in the Fall 2020 issue of SHAD foreshadowed my latest book OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose (The MIT Press). The David F. Musto Center for Drugs and National Security Studies was the event’s host organization, and the SHAD editorial trio (editor’s note: Nancy Campbell, David Herzberg, and Lucas Richert) was in town for the first ADHS conference held in Asia, “Changing Minds: Societies, States, the Science, and Psychoactive Substances in History.” Thus my memories are bound up with an evening at Healer in Shanghai, where Phoebe Han mixes ritual, baijiu aged within live bamboo, creativity, and incense into exquisite concoctions (pictured). Even reading the page proofs of the keynote brought that moment of contemplative refreshment back to me like Proust’s imagined petit madeleines dunked in tea.

Multi-modality drink at Healer.
Multi-modality drink at Healer; photo by the author.

The keynote address condensed the book, which came out on March 5, 2020—right before institutions shut down in the face of COVID-19. Fumbling around Zoom and jerry-rigging cables to ease home WiFi traffic while pivoting my class “Drugs in History” online, I leaned into co-editing SHAD, heading a department, and maintaining a brisk writing and walking schedule with COVID buddy Marion Roach Smith. I learned more about promoting books than I ever wanted to know in the basement corner that became my pop-up studio. To up my audio game, I hid beneath a blanket to record, while coordinating my video outfits with a teal couch and russet walls.

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Review: “Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear”

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

Cover of Drug Use For Grown Ups

Dr. Carl Hart’s timely Drugs for Grown-ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear attempts to ignite a shift in our collective consciousness—much like the psychoactive substances he chronicles. Credentialed academics and other elites tend to deny using drugs, or, if they want to pass as authentic for political reasons, they might admit to a few youthful indiscretions (e.g., then-candidate Barack Obama’s “inhaling was the point” comment in 2007).

Defying this taboo, Hart, Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, owns up to his affection for an expansive medicine chest. He reveals dabbling in amphetamines, discloses his use of the unfairly-maligned drug heroin, and discusses sampling 1990s club drug—and soon-to-be FDA approved medication—MDMA, along with other more obscure compounds like 2C-B, which was popularized by virtuoso, chemist, and psychonaut Alexander Shulgin.

Hart’s self-doctoring is reminiscent of nineteenth-century medical ethics, embodied by such titans of the time as William Halstead and Sigmund Freud. His self-prescribing bridges the gap between his knowledge and his experience, which helps him better understand subjects visiting his Columbia University lab. Drugs also filtered into his other extracurricular activities, figuring into adventures with his wife and enhancing their relationship and strengthening their marriage.

Who Are Drug Users?

Hart considers himself the rule not the exception in terms of drug use. Drug users are not zombies, he emphasizes; they are not the flesh-eating monsters sometimes depicted on highway billboards accompanied by inane anti-drug slogans. Drug users are not unwashed psychos or crime aficionados who inexplicably love doing evil. No, most drug users are typical, normal, average Americans, gainfully employed and living undetected—maybe you or your neighbor. And that’s okay.

Generally speaking, Hart’s ideas are easy to understand, and he gives primacy to the crucial observation that most people’s experiences with drugs are positive. Drugs offer insight, increase euphoria, and provide pleasure. Drugs act as social lubricants, making social interactions easier to bear or more enjoyable; and drugs break down barriers, allowing some individuals to be more vulnerable than they otherwise would be. People use drugs to soften the edge after a stressful day working a job they hate, and, conversely, drugs can help those who love their jobs be more productive and work long evening hours.

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Sensationalism in Defense of Anti-Narcotics is no Vice: Revisiting the Cinematic History of Reefer Madness

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

In a recent appearance on the Fiber Nation podcast, I was asked about the significance of Reefer Madness: Tell Your Children, the cult-classic film from the 1930s. As readers of Points are probably aware, the film follows the exploits of young Mary (played by Dorothy Short) and Bill (Kenneth Craig) as they get introduced and eventually fall victim to the ravages of “Marihuana,” the “Assassin of Youth.” Rediscovered in the 1970s, the film stands as a monument to the ignorance and hysteria surrounding the so-called Reefer Madness era of the 1930s, and it remains a frequent topic of popular discussions about marijuana. In addition to the discussion on Fiber Nation, an episode of Bong Appetite, a show I recently reviewed for Points, featured the film in its “Pothead Sleepover Party” episode (S1E5).

But the single-minded focus of drug reformers or historians on this one movie obscures the richer history of marijuana-themed films in the pre-World War Two period. Analyzing newspaper coverage of two other films, the appropriately titled Marihuana (1936) and Assassin of Youth (1938), adds a layer of complexity to our understanding of contemporary debates about censorship and the value of sensational films. Press reporting about these two lesser-known films highlights the, perhaps, surprising willingness of local newspapers and authorities outside of major cities to harness the sensationalism of these movies to communicate and educate the “real” dangers that this “new drug” posed to naïve youth.

Advertisement for the film Marihuana from the June 9, 1936, issue of the Modesto Bee (California)

Marihuana, written by Hildegarde Stadie and directed by Dwain Esper, was released in 1936. The story follows Burma “Blondie” Roberts (played by Harley Wood), who becomes ensnared by the dope trade, gives up her child to adoption, and turns to a life of crime. The film’s first showing (that I have been able to document) appears to have been in March 1936 at the Broadway Theater in Oakland. The Oakland Tribune touted the film as an “authentic study of the Marihuana menace,” “made in conjunction with Federal and State narcotic agents.”[1] Similar reviews followed its run into El Paso, Texas, in June, and Galveston in July.

The film did not elude criticism and censorship. Later in July in advance of a three-day run at the Rialto Theater, The Humboldt Standard (California) called the film “daring” but also warned that it was not recommended for children. Perhaps to assuage local critics, the theater screened Marihuana along with a filmed lecture entitled “Crime and Sex Fools” and the short film, “March of Crime in 1936.”[2]

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