Quiet Radicals: The Life and Work of Ruth and Edward Brecher

Part 1 – Ruth Came First

Editor’s Note: This post is by Points Managing Editor Emerita Emily Dufton. She holds a PhD in American Studies from George Washington University and is the author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America. Email Emily at emily.dufton@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @emily_dufton. Welcome back, Emily!

There’s something about the topic of drugs that can invite great writer couples to tackle the subject together. Going back nearly a century, spouses Dr. Charles E. Terry and Mildred Pellens co-authored their 1,042-page opus The Opium Problem in 1928. In 1996’s Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure, Dan Baum (who passed away from brain cancer last year) dedicated the book to his wife Margaret, who was his “reporting and writing partner” and “a genius at wrangling meaning from a sentence.” “My name is on the cover,” Baum acknowledged, “but the book is equally Margaret’s.”

The same can be said of Ruth and Edward Brecher, who, for 25 years, shared a byline on more than 200 articles and several books about science, drug use, and public health. Their commitment to researching complex topics and presenting them in a clear way to the general reader was so strong that, when the American Psychiatric Association presented them with the Robert T. Morse Writer’s Award in 1971, the Brechers were hailed as “scholarly crusaders for a better life for all Americans.” 

Brechers Title Card
Image of Ruth (Cook) Brecher from the Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9, 1933; Image of Edward Brecher from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 6, 1932.

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9/11 and Drug History:
An Interview with Dr. Samuel R. Friedman

Editor’s Note: This post is by Points Managing Editor Emerita Emily Dufton. She holds a PhD in American Studies from George Washington University and is the author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America. Email Emily at emily.dufton@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @emily_dufton. Welcome back, Emily!

On the morning of September 11, 2001, recent health problems forced Dr. Samuel R. Friedman to get a blood test before going to work. That meant he didn’t catch the train from New Brunswick to New York until a little before 9 am. The hour-long PATH train would normally let him out right under the World Trade Center, where his suite of offices took up the South Tower’s entire sixteenth floor. Friedman was a senior fellow at the NDRI—the National Development and Research Institutes, formerly the Narcotic and Drug Research Institutes—and he was going to be late that day, but not too late.

But the train didn’t make it to Port Authority. As it drew into the Newark station, the conductor announced that all passengers would be taken to Penn Station instead, at no extra charge. Friedman, who had been commuting for years, knew all about the city’s problems with public transportation. “‘Ok,’ I said to myself, ‘that happens sometimes.’”

But when they pulled away from Newark, Friedman knew something else was wrong. “The track goes up and then goes down so you’ve got a good view of New York City,” he said. “You could always see the Trade Center.”

“We noticed that the North Tower was smoking like hell, it was on fire. And we go along a few miles later and we see there’s smoke coming out of the South Tower too.”

It was 2001, Friedman said; fewer people had cell phones then. But as they sat on the train, word spread. Something happened. A plane hit a building. The World Trade Center. Something’s going on.

“And so I get into Penn Station,” Friedman remembered. “And I’m able to get a payphone–they had them then. My first connection is home, where I leave a message saying I’m fine, I’m going to get the next train home. I then call the office to say, in case there’s anyone there, get the fuck out.”

But no one answered that phone. It rang in the emptying tower.

9-11 Friedman Social Card

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Goodbye 2020, Goodbye Emily Dufton; Hello 2021, Hello AIHP!

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.

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Points Roundtable: “American Rehab” from Reveal

In July, Reveal, the broadcast channel of the Center for Investigative Reporting, released its eight-part series American Rehab, which centered on an investigation into the drug treatment program Cenikor and the group’s emphasis on “work therapy.” Examining how Cenikor was able to transform “tens of thousands of people into an unpaid, shadow workforce,” Reveal traced Cenikor’s development, struggles, and ultimate success as it placed “patients” into difficult, and often dangerous, jobs across Texas and Louisiana, keeping the money these workers earned and providing little else in terms of actual therapy or rehabilitation. Led by reporters Shoshana Walter, Laura Starecheski and Ike Sriskandarajah, the series is based off Walter’s previous reporting on the issue, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for national reporting.

American Rehab’s early episodes deal extensively with the history of a group that directly influenced the formation of Cenikor: Synanon. In doing so, the reporters reached out to several members of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society for advice and assistance on the history of addiction treatment. We’re really useful people to ask: roundtable participant Nancy Campbell’s book, co-authored with JP Olsen and Luke Walden, The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts outlined the history of the Lexington Narcotics Farm, where “work therapy” got its start, and panelist Claire Clark’s book The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States deals extensively with the long and complicated history of how “therapeutic communities” like Synanon influenced addiction treatment and rehabilitation. These books, as well as Campbell, Olsen, and Walden’s series, “Lessons from the Narcotic Farm” from 2012 (click the links to see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) and contributing editor Jordan Mylet’s initial reaction to the series here, provide further details for those interested in how American drug treatment came to the disturbing point Reveal reveals. 

In response, now that the entire series is available, we decided to post a roundtable of reactions to the podcast. Participants include Nancy Campbell, professor and department head of Science & Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Erin Hatton, associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo and the author of Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment; Claire Clark, associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Kentucky; Jordan Mylet, doctoral candidate in history at the University of California, San Diego; and me, Emily Dufton, managing editor of Points and author of a forthcoming book about the history of medication-assisted treatment in the US. Our responses focus on the long history of work therapy in addiction treatment, the concept of coerced labor, the promotional model at the heart of many treatment programs, further reflections on Synanon, and assessments of the series’s conclusion. 

We welcome your thoughts on American Rehab and thank the reporters for bringing ADHS historians into the conversation. We hope you’ll enjoy our thoughts on American Rehab, and that you’ll listen to this important and informative podcast. 

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Marijuana History: A Bibliography

It’s been a big month for cannabis legalization news.

On May 31, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use, and did so via state legislature (making it only the second state, after Vermont, to do so in this manner). But earlier this week, a movement to legalize in New York fell flat. Meanwhile, the federal government continues to debate whether the Justice Department should be allowed to interfere with state and territorial legalization laws.

Like I said, a big month, with, many predict, more news to come.

As drug and alcohol historians, our question is always, “How did we get here?” It turns out that the folks at MarijuanaDoctors.com were asking the same question. They put together a bibliography that covers the culture, politics, history, horticulture and science of cannabis (as well as a section on the “Best Reads While High,” which might be slightly more subjective), and it could be a useful starting place for those hoping to understand our strange new cannabis world. You can check out the full list here, and what follows are some highlights.

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Hidden Figures of Drug History: Melissa Cargill

This is the first time researching a post in my “Hidden Figures of Drug History” series has legitimately pissed me off. Usually, when I’m trying to learn more about someone like Joan Ganz Cooney, Lenore Kandel or Kitty McNeil, the fantastically-nicknamed “Babbling Bodhisattva,” my research takes me to enlightening places, where I can locate the influential impact these unacknowledged women have made on America’s long history with intoxicant use.

Screenshot 2019-06-11 at 8.46.43 AM
Melissa Cargill

But over the past few days, as I tried to learn more about the mysterious Melissa Cargill, I became enormously upset about how overshadowed this talented chemist was by her larger-than-life partner, Augustus Owsley “Bear” Stanley III, the man “responsible” for the purest LSD in San Francisco in the 1960s, as well as the Grateful Dead’s famous “Wall of Sound.”

But was Owsley really the one manning the beakers? Or was it Cargill all along?

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Points Bookshelf: “Glass and Gavel” by Nancy Maveety

“Look, I like beer, okay? I like beer.”

If there is no other solace from the painful testimonies we heard from Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh last September (and there is not), at least we have Matt Damon’s portrayal of the justice on Saturday Night Live.

(The Washington Post made this helpful mashup if your memory needs refreshing:)

With Kavanaugh’s declaration of his beverage of choice still fresh in our minds, Nancy Maveety couldn’t have chosen a better time to publish Glass and Gavel: The U.S. Supreme Court and Alcohol (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), which details the two-hundred-year-long relationship between alcohol and our highest court. This swift-moving, thoroughly-researched, and useful (it contains recipes!) analysis of the often-tempestuous relationship between alcohol and constitutional law is a useful addition to the canon, not only because its history is unique–to my knowledge this the first extensive history of the Supreme Court’s alcohol rulings–but its format is unique as well. By combining a summary of the Court’s rulings with insightful drinking biographies of the justices themselves, Maveety has crafted a story that shows how America’s alcohol laws have shifted over time, alongside revealing portraits of how our country’s drinking culture has evolved along with, or in spite of, the legal landscape. 

Screenshot 2019-03-25 14.59.06Each of the fourteen chapters focuses on a single Court era, as defined by its sitting chief justice, and Glass and Gavel moves swiftly from the John Marshall Era (1801-1835) to the John Roberts Era of today (2005-current). We watch as justices debate the question of who should be held responsible if liquor is “taken to excess” (this was during the Fuller era, 1888-1910, and Justice Stephen J. Field argued that it was not the seller’s fault), to more modern questions of regulating out-of-state alcohol sales during the “Rehnquist Era of Neo-Temperance” (1986-2005). Major rulings are outlined, Prohibition dominates the middle part of the book, and, by gaining deeper insight into the justices’ own views on drinking, we watch the history of America’s relationship with alcohol unfold from the lofty position of the judicial bench. Glass and Gavel is the story of alcohol in American life and law, told through the lens of the Court’s chief cocktail.

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Points Bookshelf: “Never Enough” by Judith Grisel

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first installment of the Points Bookshelf, in which we review books about drugs, alcohol, history–and maybe even a combination of all three. We open with a review of Judith Grisel’s new book “Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction,” which was released last month. 

If you’re interested in reviewing a book for Points, get in touch! You can reach editor Emily Dufton at emily.dufton (a) gmail.com

Screenshot 2019-03-07 at 9.02.18 AMSometimes it’s nice to consult an expert.

I first heard Judith Grisel on Fresh Air. Her interview with Terry Gross was fascinating. She has a PhD in behavioral neuroscience and psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and she spent a good part of her early life addicted to numerous substances, including alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and more. Now drug-free for over thirty years, she is a professor of psychology at Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

Her approach to the difficult subject of addiction is thus colored by all of her experiences. Because of her years as someone who had an unhealthy romance with numerous intoxicants (the title comes from a statement a friend made to her in a seedy hotel room in Miami as they snorted up as much cocaine as they physically could; there would “never be enough cocaine” for Grisel, her friend said, and when she realized the truth in this statement, it was a turning point in her life and career), she’s aware of the havoc addiction can wreak in individuals’, families’ and communities’ lives. As a neuroscientist and psychologist who has spent decades studying how the brain reacts to, and adapts to, intoxicant use, she’s also adept at explaining the biological and neurological underpinnings of this issue.

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