Intolerable Normalcies: Multiple American Methadones

“To what extent can social problems be circumvented by reducing them to technological problems? Can we identify quick technological fixes for profound and almost infinitely complicated social problems, fixes that are within the grasp of modern technology and which would either eliminate the original social problem without requiring a change in the individual’s social attitudes or would alter the problem as to make its resolution more feasible?”

Dorothy Nelkin asked the questions above in her  slim volume, Methadone Maintenance: A Technological Fix (New York: George Braziller, 1973), where she argued the practice would have a tenuous future as a “chemotherapeutic ‘fix’” for heroin addiction. The latter, she wrote, was an “adaptive response to real and overwhelming social or psychological difficulties that cannot be resolved by a simple technological fix” (3, 152). But methadone was no simple technological fix. Programs developed in a “climate of conflict extending from the level of policy down to the actual operation of individual clinics” (8). The Dayton, Ohio, methadone clinic where James Klein and Julia Reichert shot their film Methadone: An American Way of Dealing is a Black space full of energy and music—even as no-nonsense white nurses refuse to disclose to Black patients the dosage they are serving up in their “free cup of methadone.”

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