Intolerable Normalcies: Multiple American Methadones

Author: Nancy Campbell

“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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The War on Drugs at 50

Editor’s Note: This post by Social History of Alcohol and Drugs Editors Nancy Campbell, David Herzberg, and Lucas Richert kicks off Points’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the declaration of the War on Drugs.

In a White House press conference on June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs. His message was stark: “America’s public enemy number one, in the United States, is drug abuse.” He announced that it was “necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive” on this enemy, and his campaign would be “worldwide” in size and scope. Fifty years later, the United States and, indeed, many other countries are reckoning with the fallout.

President Richard Nixon’s June 17, 1971, press conference announcing a “a new all-out offensive” against drugs and “drug abuse.” Source: Richard Nixon Foundation YouTube channel.

At the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (SHAD), we are all too aware of the long term ramifications of President Nixon’s pronouncement, but we also recognize that the “War on Drugs” did not strictly begin in June 1971 and was rooted in prohibitionist impulses that built up over the decades; still, one can’t deny the power of branding—and in formalizing the “War” agenda at the highest level.

We are also committed to understanding the War on Drugs in locales and populations beyond the United States. And we are committed to understanding how harm reduction was minimized at the expense of more punitive measures, leading the War on Drugs to also become a War on People who Use Drugs.

Thanks to the University of Chicago Press, we are happy to share below a free selection of six SHAD articles that help explain the War on Drugs on the home front and outside American borders. These articles, which will be freely available and open access until the end of August 2021, present, we think, a valuable and broader perspective on the War on Drugs, which we hope will be of use to you. Interested readers can see the abstracts below and click through to read the articles.

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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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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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The Points Interview: Nancy Campbell

Editor’s Note: Today we’re thrilled to feature SHAD co-editor Nancy Campbell discussing her new book, OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose (The MIT Press, 2020). Campbell is Professor and Department Head of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer in Troy, New York. Her other books are: Gendering Addiction: The Politics of Drug Treatment in a Neurochemical World (co-authored with Elizabeth Ettorre; Palgrave, 2011); Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research (University of Michigan Press, 2007); The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts (co-authored with JP Olsen and Luke Walden; Abrams, 2008); and Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy, and Social Justice (Routledge, 2000). Although she has a PhD in the History of Consciousness from the University of California at Santa Cruz, she has been granted a green card as a historian.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Screenshot 2020-05-18 21.01.53Some of my favorite bartenders include grad students and PhD alums. They’ve had rough days “pivoting” to incorporate COVID-19 into their dissertations. I’d introduce my book as dense, dark, and handsome, like the cover. OD is spelled out in old-school Franklin Gothic Condensed type—headline type. But scribed through the letters is a 45-degree angle, signifying the US opioid overdose death rate from 2000-2017.

OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose is a lively book about death. Preventable deaths haunt its pages. The protagonists of OD all have a touch of mordant wit tinging their heartfelt dedication to harm reduction. Their badassery has been quite effective—these compassionate cynics were galvanized to remodel their social worlds over the past 30 years. Many were touched by profound losses. Many knew people who died because naloxone and the knowledge to use was not ready to hand. Their stories intertwine with those of policy and public health, wars on drugs and drug users.

Every bartender knows that people grieve their losses differently. Some drown their sorrows. Others turn them into art, poetry, protest, or testimony. Some turn them into science, research, evidence. I included as much of the cultural production that has occurred in response to overdose as I could muster. There are 40 illustrations, some 20 of which came from Santa Cruz Needle Exchange’s ‘zine Junkphood. These keep the book’s pulse strong. You can learn a lot from people who believe, as Lee Hertel of Lee’s Rig Hub in Minneapolis, that “nobody deserves to die because of how they choose to navigate life.”

That’s something every bartender needs to hear and pass along.

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Points Interview: Meet the New Editors of SHAD

In January 2018, Nancy Campbell, David Herzberg, and Lucas Richert assumed responsibility for Social History of Drugs and Alcohol: An Interdisciplinary Journal. They took on the role of co-editors in chief and began planning for the future. In April, the ADHS signed an agreement with University of Chicago Press.

Screenshot 2018-12-05 15.53.05
SHAD’s new co-editors, L-R: David Herzberg, Nancy Campbell, and Lucas Richert

1.) Tell us about your history as a scholar. What got you interested in alcohol and drug history?

Nancy: As the daughter and grand-daughter of small-town doctors, I was fascinated by the drug room and amassed a large collection of pharmaceutical giveaways. I was struck by how dismissive people were toward “druggies,” so at a tender age, I announced my intention to write a history of drugs. I’m just sticking to the plan.

Luc: I didn’t have a plan. Far from it. But I did figure out that I wanted to focus on the field of history in my third year of undergraduate. I started scheming and scrambling after I finished up at the University of Saskatchewan – and then I traveled to Edinburgh and London for graduate school. Early on, the American pharmaceutical policy grabbed my attention for a number of reasons; ultimately, this seemed a useful way of understanding the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

David: One of my closest friends in college had a very severe anxiety disorder. He was a very charismatic guy and liked to hold court and hold forth while medicating himself thoroughly with the one drug that he said eased his mind, alcohol. A favorite subject of his was Big Pharma medical journal ads. He had somehow come into possession of a huge stack of old journals, and he would flip through the images of smilingly healed people, deconstructing them freestyle, brilliantly but also bitterly–those drugs had let him down, but there they still were, mocking him with their shiny and, to him, fake promises. It stuck with me, this acute, intense version of consumer culture promises and human realities. My friend died while I was in grad school, making the questions more urgent right around when it was time to pick a dissertation topic.

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SHAD Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies

Editor’s Note: The newest issue of the Alcohol and Drug History Society’s journal, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, or SHAD, is a special edition, joined with the journal Contemporary Drug Problems. It focuses specifically on gender and critical drug studies. Two of SHAD’s newest co-editors, Nancy Campbell and David Herzberg, provide an introduction to the issue here, and over the next few weeks we’re going to feature some of the issue’s authors giving insights into their work. Enjoy! 

trafficThe 2000 film “Traffic” is harshly critical of American drug policy as ineffective, corrupt, and cruel.  Among the many stories it traces is the ascent of DEA chief Robert Wakefield (played by Michael Douglas) to the position of Drug Czar. Just as Wakefield reaches the apex of his career as an anti-drug warrior, his daughter Caroline descends from recreational drug use into “hard core” heroin addiction.  

Caroline, blonde and so white as to be almost luminescent, begins with casual drug use with other white friends in upscale settings.  As her use becomes more serious, the movie follows her to meaner streets and more diverse companions. When she finally fully succumbs to addiction, she has become a sex worker in an African American neighborhood in the employ of a young, heavily muscled, dark-skinned dealer.

We all immediately recognize these embarrassing racial stereotypes—that’s why they so efficiently signal Caroline’s decline.  And thanks to a wealth of vibrant scholarship that has revealed the racial dynamics of American drug policies, we are likely to be enraged by the calculated conflation of addiction, degradation, and blackness in a supposedly rebellious film.  Shouldn’t Steven Soderbergh (the director) know better? But racialized tropes are so deeply built into drug-war culture that their absence would be surprising even in a critical vehicle like “Traffic.”

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Forthcoming: Special Journal Issues on Gender and Drugs

Editor’s Note: The next editions of the journals Contemporary Drug Problems and The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs will be conjoined on the topic of drugs and gender. Below are the shared titles and abstracts. Make sure to check out the full articles upon publication next month!

Gender and Critical Drug Studies: An Introduction and an Invitation

Nancy D. Campbell, David Herzberg

This introduction to conjoined special issues of Contemporary Drug Problemsand the journal of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society, the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, began with a 2015 symposium at the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), organized by co-editors Nancy D. Campbell and David Herzberg. The symposium called for incorporating gender analysis into the rapidly developing scholarship on drug use, drug trade, drug science, drug treatment, and drug policy in the United States. The special issues showcase articles that are part of a vibrant body of historical, sociological, and anthropological scholarship that explores the differential effects of drug policy, focusing on how gender—in dynamic relationship to race, class, and sexuality—is integral to virtually every aspect of drug crises including (but not limited to) the relationship between drug policy, drug treatment, and the development of mass incarceration. Gender matters at every level from the intimate and highly personalized to the broad cultural and political forces that disparately apportion vulnerability within drug commerce and the U.S. prison–industrial complex.

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