I’ve watched Methadone: An American Way of Dealing five times now. Each time, I’m taken aback by how skillfully directors Julia Reichert and James Klein present this moment—a period of peak tension in the addiction treatment community. By 1974, when the film was released, the early promises of methadone were butting up, often painfully, against the era’s difficult realities. Through interviews with patients at the Dayton, Ohio, Bureau of Drug Abuse clinic (BUDA) at the center of the film, Reichert and Klein make it clear that methadone, once hailed as the solution to the decade’s twin problems of addiction and crime, couldn’t overcome the era’s other issues: deindustrialization, Vietnam, and America’s trends toward atomization and its concomitant political right turn.
Editor’s Note: This is me — Emily Dufton — signing off.
2020. What a year.
What was it for you? The pandemic? Teaching remotely? Learning a whole new way to interact with family and friends? The total disruption of normalcy?
There were highlights: the election of Joe Biden (a fellow Pennsylvania native — hello Scranton, my father’s hometown!) comes to mind. National protests over racial justice, a problem that certainly isn’t new but took on a sudden and disturbing relevancy this year. And there’s the unprecedented wave of democratic participation in the presidential and down-ticket elections, which is amazing and, I hope, repeated in 2024.
There were the obvious lowlights as well: the deaths from Covid. The deaths from overdose and suicide. The unemployment numbers rising and businesses closing. The children lost as social structures broke down.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University.
Last summer, Joe Biden attended a ritzy fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel for New York donors, where he promised the ultrarich “nothing would fundamentally change.” Since then, his decisions have reflected this sentiment, honoring past administrations’ allegiance to revolving-door-politics, handing out cabinet seats to a who’s who of corporate America, and plucking various candidates from private equity, the arms industry and K-Street. Even his continuation of Trump’s herd immunity, open-everything-up strategy for coronavirus indicates he will keep that promise of “nothing will fundamentally change,” apparently content to preside over the country’s long-term decline.
Throughout the election, media outlets largely avoided scrutinizing Biden’s record, especially as it related to drug policy, with reporters acting much closer to campaign surrogates than journalists, often playing defense for the Biden team. The Washington Post, Vox, Politico, and the New York Times all made the preposterous assertion that Biden apologized for his cruel, single-minded focus on prison and punishment during his time in the Senate. But apart from giving a couple half-hearted non-apology apologies that sounded reminiscent of “mistakes were made,” Biden has never fully taken responsibility for the lives he destroyed, or the incalculable harms he inflicted on millions of Americans.
Equally unwarranted was the positive attention that Biden’s opioid proposal received. Outlets falsely claimed Biden views “addiction” as a health issue and no longer wants to pursue punitive approaches to drugs. German Lopez, senior reporter for Vox, even went as far as labeling Biden’s opioid plan as “ambitious.” To be clear, Biden’s agenda doesn’t guarantee treatment, doesn’t end punishment, and doesn’t include the most effective evidence-based methods for reducing overdose deaths. His plan isn’t ambitious; it’s not even good.
Editor’s Note: In a recent post, contributing editor Bob Beach previewed his course offering for this past term and argued for the urgency of the moment in his decision to snap-adapt his 100-level survey courses into a survey of the history of public health and public safety, conceived loosely around an historical exploration of timely current events (the pandemic, and policing). In this post, he shares his experience this term.
The first time it happened was during an ADHS conference. David Courtwright, during a talk on non-food addictions, offered an interesting idea for managing student cell phone use in class, drawing on harm reduction strategies from drug addiction studies. For the first five weeks of my next term, I started administering a “maintenance dose” of cell phone use about half-way through each session. While the experiment outlived its usefulness in short order, I started to see my field of study reflected in my work as an instructor in ways that went beyond the history.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the first in a three-part series on “Teaching the Drug War” that will run throughout this month and into January 2021. It comes from Sarah Baranauskas, who works at the University of Colorado Boulder and lives in Lyons, Colorado. You can follow her on Twitter @sandequation or check out the podcast she co-hosts What the Folk Pod.
There’s a famous quote from former Nixon administration advisor John Erhlichman that serves as a stark illustration of how a major aspect of the U.S. “war on drugs” has been a war on information. As he was quoted in Dan Baum’s 2016 piece in Harper’s:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” [emphasis added]
As misinformation (and outright propaganda) have been features of the drug war from day one, as well as the suppression of research resulting from prohibition, I see clear intersections between my work as an academic librarian and as an advocate for drug policy reform. For starters, two of the major ethical foundations of my profession are intellectual freedom and access to information. These ethics inform all aspects of librarianship, from front-line circulation services to collection development. In my role providing undergraduate information literacy instruction, which includes supporting classes that study drug policy and the therapeutic or medicinal applications of psychoactive substances, I see opportunities not only to uphold these professional ethics, but also to provide pedagogical resistance to the (mis)information tactics of the drug war.
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.
In his 2018 book Craft Weed: Family Farming and the Future of the Marijuana Industry, Ryan Stoa, visiting professor at Louisiana’s Southern University Law Center, aims to put cannabis agriculture at center-stage in the legalization movement. He argues that legalization has the “potential to revitalize the American family farm and rural economies nationwide” (p 15). His main reason for thinking so: growers care—about their plants and their local communities, and they can be regulated in a way that suits both, despite what industry analysts might be predicting.
Stoa understands that when it comes to cannabis regulation, “it all starts at the beginning of the supply chain, where farmers plant, care for, and harvest marijuana” (p 7). Despite this, in places such as California, his main study area, “lawmakers completely neglected the subject of marijuana agriculture for twenty years” after a citizen initiative legalized medical marijuana in 1996. The result has been an unregulated Green Rush that has left many well-intentioned, small-time growers to fend for themselves and given rise to fears that, when full legalization does come, it will privilege only the largest and wealthiest entities.
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.
“Important Update regarding meetings,” read an announcement on the website of the Eastern Massachusetts Central Service Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous in early March. “Due to the Covid-19 health risk note that most meetings have been suspended by the host facility until further notice.” Similar posts appeared on the sites of AA chapters across the nation as the novel Corona virus grew increasingly widespread, prompting state and local governments to enact precautionary measures such as closures of businesses, schools, churches—wherever people could gather—to slow its transmission. As officials encouraged citizens to stay at home and practice social distancing, alcohol and drug addicts found themselves in a particularly precarious state: isolated and struggling to cope alone with the mounting stress of living with the frightening specter of a global pandemic.
Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Professor David Farber, the author of CRACK: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed (Cambridge University Press, 2019). Farber is the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor at University of Kansas, and is a historian of modern America. His previous books include Everybody Ought to Be Rich: The Life and Times of John J. Raskob, Capitalist; Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America’s First Encounter with Radical Islam and Chicago ’68.
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
I’ve written a history of the crack cocaine years. In the 1980s and 1990s, crack crews took over swathes of poor, disproportionately Black urban neighborhoods. They set up 24/7 open-air drug markets. In those communities, suffering from the ravages of de-industrialization and the pain of Reagan-era disinvestment, crack use became epidemic.
Across the United States, a moral panic took root. White, middle-class Americans feared that crack was coming for them, too. That moral panic contributed to draconian drug laws that accelerated the rise of mass incarceration in the United States.
Meanwhile, crack kingpins got rich (at least for a while), Gangsta Rap artists celebrated their exploits, and mainstream American society found one more reason to harden its heart against its poorest and most alienated members. The Crack Years changed America.