The Instruments of Darkness Tell Us Truths: A History of Heather Edney & The Santa Cruz Needle Exchange

Editor’s Note: Today’s post in honor of Women’s History Month comes from Greg Ellis. Ellis and Heather Edney are currently writing an insider’s account about Edney’s early pioneering needle exchange work in Santa Cruz during the AIDS epidemic prior to the advent of protease inhibitors. Edney’s innovative ideas about harm reduction flourished in a male-dominated field and changed the face of modern healthcare and recovery. The memoir will be an imprint of Anthology Press.

junkphood - How to Spot a Coke OD
How to Spot a Coke OD, from the “Coked-Up Puffs” edition of junkphood, artwork by Brooke Lober, 1995. Image courtesy of Heather Edney

But ‘tis strange and oftentimes, to
win us to our harm, the instruments
of darkness tell us truths, win us with
honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.

—Macbeth act 1, sc. 3, l. 124-8

There is a simple principle in the field of harm reduction that drug users are the experts on using drugs. But what exactly does that mean? Strong governmental and institutional pressures to uphold systemic standards and anti-drug laws frequently foster mistrust between drug users and social service providers.

In her soon-to-be-published memoir and harm reduction manifesto, titled Sucking Dick for Syringes, long-time harm reduction activist Heather Edney recounts the history that led her to bridge the divide from the shooting gallery to the boardroom. Edney, who was instrumental in building the pioneering Santa Cruz Needle Exchange Program (SCNEP) in the 1990s, writes about the intersection of drugs, sex, and running an illegal syringe exchange. Her innovative risk reduction modalities ultimately created some of the most revolutionary and lasting changes during the infancy of the field. Her ideas and techniques have saved countless limbs from infection and loss, prevented unknown numbers of seroconversions, and introduced the concept of holistic healthcare to marginalized and criminalized populations.

Heather Edney operated in the world of drugs for much of her young life before landing in Santa Cruz, California, at the age of 19—where she learned about the fledgling needle exchange program run by a dedicated group of volunteers. Edney employed the skill set developed from a childhood of sexual trauma and familial dysfunction, quickly rising to a leadership position and ultimately creating an internationally renowned needle exchange model.

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The Way Back Machine—Marsha Rosenbaum: Women on Heroin at 40

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with Women’s History Month, this is the first installment in “The Way Back Machine,” a series of interviews with key theorists and practitioners of alcohol and drugs research, treatment, and recovery among women and communities of color during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Through these interviews, Points co-founder and Managing Editor Emerita Trysh Travis works out some of the theoretical issues she articulated almost ten years ago in “Feminist Anti-Addiction Discourse: Towards A Research Agenda.”

Women on Heroin Cover
Cover of Women on Heroin by Marsha Rosenbaum.

When Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy #1” in 1971, the assumed abuser was male—probably a man of color, possibly a poor white man, but almost certainly a man. Women were known to use and abuse narcotics, but their numbers were small. As a result, theories of narcotics use, and the policy prescriptions that sprang from them, rarely paid attention to the woman user. Medical sociologist Marsha Rosenbaum set out to correct that problem with Women on Heroin (WOH), a field-defining study published forty years ago by Rutgers University Press.

Now retired, Rosenbaum went on to a long career as a researcher with the Institute for Scientific Analysis in San Francisco, where much of her work continued to focus on gender and narcotic use, especially the possibilities of methadone. She served as the Director for the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance from 1995-2008, where she took early and courageous stands in favor of harm reduction, marijuana legalization, and honest, science-based drug education for teens.

I caught up with Rosenbaum recently to celebrate the anniversary of WOH and discuss what lessons it might offer to feminist drug historians—including historians of the current opioid crisis.

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Zada, Gloria, and the Sisters: Excerpts from A Conversation with Dr. Metta Lou Henderson

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of Points posts during March in honor of Women’s History Month. Today’s article comes from American Institute of the History of Pharmacy Board Member Melissa Murer Corrigan, BPharm, FAPhA, FASHP. Murer Corrigan is the founding Executive Director/CEO of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy. Passionate about leadership and encouraging more women leaders, she also is host of the MelisRxScripts podcast. 

Sister Pharmacist Mercy Hospital Chicago 1898
Sister Mary Ignatius Feeney in the Drug Room at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital in 1898. Sister Pharmacists helped to pioneer the specialty of hospital pharmacy. Image Courtesy of Metta Lou Henderson.

During March 2021, we celebrate Women’s History Month and recognize the significant contributions of women in history and society. I think it’s also a great time to learn more about the outstanding women who’ve played key leadership roles in pharmacy and health care. On my podcast MelisRxScripts, I strive to interview women leaders of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

I recently talked with Metta Lou Henderson, PhD, a research pioneer in the history of women in pharmacy. Women’s History Month is the perfect opportunity to share some highlights from our chat. In 2009, Metta Lou donated the Metta Lou Henderson Women in Pharmacy Collection to the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, and in 2015 she was elected the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) honorary president for her lifelong commitment as a scholar and advocate for the profession of pharmacy. Metta Lou also is the author of American Women Pharmacists: Contributions to the Profession.

Metta Lou is retired from Ohio Northern University and has had a long, accomplished and significant career in pharmacy. Here are some thoughts from Metta Lou on other women pioneers in pharmacy such as pharmacy educator Zada Cooper, pharmacy organization leader Gloria Francke, and Catholic nuns who helped pioneer hospital pharmacy.

This interview has been edited slightly for readability and space limitations. If you enjoy what you read please check out the full interview in Episode 17: “Take Risks and Make it Work” With Metta Lou Henderson at MelisRxScripts.

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“…In Preference to a Better Qualified Woman”: Remembering Nellie Wakeman—Pharmacy Pioneer and Women’s Rights Activist


Editor’s Note: T
his is the first in a series of Points posts during March in honor of Women’s History Month. Today’s article comes from Managing Editor Greg Bond, Assistant Director of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy and the Senior Editor of History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals.

“Whenever a woman comes into competition with a man she must not only be as good but considerably better than the man who wants the same job,” explained Nellie Wakeman in a 1937 article about “Women in Pharmacy” for the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. Wakeman, who in 1913 had become the first (known) woman in the United States to receive a PhD in pharmacy, lamented that “even then the chances are about ten to one that it will be given to the man.”

Wakeman was the first—and at that time still the only—woman on the pharmacy faculty at the University of Wisconsin, and she described the employment situation in terms that may still be all too familiar for many women in the workplace today:

“And if the woman does get it, her salary will probably be less than that paid to men for the same work; moreover, arrangements are sometimes made that whatever of honor or credit accrues to the position will be directed to some male superior or colleague.” [1]

Throughout her long teaching career at the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy from 1913 through 1946, Wakeman battled discrimination but was both a role model and a fierce advocate for women in pharmacy. In the male-dominated professions of pharmacy and academia, she routinely earned praise for her research, writing, and teaching, and she created a lasting legacy by encouraging her female students to pursue pharmaceutical and graduate education despite the prejudices of the era.

Nellie Wakeman Through the Years
Nellie Wakeman through the years: in 1903, 1908, and 1939. Image courtesy of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy.

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The Points Interview: Gina Barreca

Editor’s Note:  Continuing the attention to gender and drinking that we mustered up for women’s history month, Points is excited to welcome feminist author Gina Barreca as our twenty-second interview, talking about her recent anthology of writings by women on drinking, Make Mine a Double: Why Women Like Us Like To Drink (or Not) (University Press of New England, 2011).  Well-known as a syndicated columnist and radio commentator, Barreca is a historian of gender and humor as well as a gendered and humorous subject.  Her past scholarly books include They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted: Women’s Strategic Use of Humor (Viking, 1991) and Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Coeducation in the Ivy League (University Press of New England, 2011). When not hoisting a glass, she teaches English and Feminist Theory at the University of Connecticut.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

University Press of New England, 2011

The 28 original pieces by terrific women writers–written especially for Make Mine A Double— celebrate parts of women’s lives that have been bottled up and sealed tight. Whether you look at the funny essays about women drinking or the equally funny essays about women not drinking, the book will cheer you, sustain you, and make you laugh out loud.  I felt it was important to create this collection because without being defined as such, the discussion of drinking has traditionally been the study of male drinking. We needed a new perspective. This volume helps us examine, for example, the fact that the attitudes behind sayings like “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine” are indeed the precursors to the neo-con anti-feminists of today.  They’re put forth by the “preservers” of the ideals of “pure womanhood”—a figment of our cultural imagination contrived by a society that exists by refusing to admit that many of its members are actually human beings capable of making choices and acting in their own best interests. Not that I’m bitter.  By clinking a glass against the glass ceiling, the pieces in Make Mine A Double celebrate the stories of wine, women, friendship, and feminism as they’ve never been heard before. We’re coming out of the wine cellar and telling the truth in a way that few women have permitted themselves to do.

What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
Older whiskey and younger women have always been the manifestation of a man’s accomplishment; that much we know. Historically, the bedrooms and the cellars of men of means were always fully stocked, while women, naturally, were meant to be in the kitchen—using only a little Burgundy for the Beef Bourgogne—and in the nursery where their breasts were manufacturing beverages to feed others.  One of the most appalling and often-repeated image of gendered drinking is from Hogarth’s “Gin Lane”: the woman who, bottle in one hand and baby in the other, has one breast flapping in the wind as her infant appears to be sliding off her arm; demon drink has captured her full attention. The idea is that women have never been able to handle liquor. A man can be in his cups, but a woman should always make sure her C-cup stays on straight.

And yet somehow women have always managed to drink.

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Documents: “A Female Junkie Speaks”

Consciousness Raising Session, 1969
(Photo: Mary Ellen Mark)

Editor’s Note:  A few days ago I articulated my interest in uncovering the radical feminist position on drug use and abuse—or in figuring out why radical feminists didn’t have one.  Now in the document-gathering phase, I’ve come across one early statement on drugs that seems particularly noteworthy.  “A Female Junkie Speaks,” which appeared in the collection Notes from the Second Year, a volume that might well be subtitled “greatest hits of women’s liberation,” is also difficult to obtain.  Edited by Shulamith Firestone, Notes collects various writings by the group New York Radical Women; it appeared in limited numbers in early 1970 and has never been reprinted.  Key essays within it form the canon of the movement and are widely anthologized– Pat Mainardi’s “The Politics of Housework,” Anne Koedt’s “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,”  Carol Hanisch’s “The Personal is Political,” and Kathie Sarachild’s “A Program for Feminist ‘Consciousness-Raising,’” (a later version is available here) to name just a few. 

“A Female Junkie Speaks,” however, is not a canonical text, despite its subject’s facility with key concepts in women’s liberation.  In this short “interview” with feminist poet and NYRW member Lucille Iverson, she articulates white middle-class culture’s propensity for the symbolic annihilation of women, theorizes the normative female subject position as a form of prostitution, and endorses women’s consciousness-raising and female community as key antidotes to oppression– and addiction.  But late in the piece, “Susan” notes her consciousness-raising group’s negative response to her admission that she is a drug addict; the text is frustratingly silent on what prompts the members’ “resent[ment].”   It concludes with a hopeful call to radical feminists to actively engage with “female junkies.”  Exactly why that call was not heeded will, I hope, be the subject of future posts.

A Female Junkie Speaks
Interview by Lucille Iverson
Susan, the girl speaking here, has been a drug-user and junkie off and on for almost ten years; she has recently joined Women’s Liberation.

No one can be liberated alone….

To come home and be all alone, man, I can’t stand that.

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Feminist Anti-Addiction Discourse: Towards a Research Agenda

Devoted Points readers may recall that over the last year contributing editor Michelle McClellan and myself have mused on the odd relationship—or lack thereof—between addiction studies and women’s studies. Given the high correlation between alcohol/drug abuse and a variety of forms of violence against women, as well as the demonstrated role that alcohol and drugs play in a hypersexualized consumer culture that enforces “hegemonic masculine and emphasized feminine” roles, we have puzzled over the relative lack of interest in alcohol and drug history and activism on the part of feminist researchers.

A Women's History Month Post

Where, we have wondered, is the feminist anti-drug-and-alcohol abuse discourse in the contemporary academy, on our campuses, and in the larger public health milieu? And, on a more traditionally scholarly note, where is it in the history of feminism—particularly in Second Wave feminism or in, as its radical offshoot is sometimes known, “women’s liberation”? In honor of Women’s History Month, it’s to this last question that this post is devoted.

Lest it be thought that only squares were concerned with the problems of alcohol and drugs back in the good ol’ days of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I direct your attention to anti-drug messages from the heart of the revolution: the Diggers’ “Uncle Tim’$ Children” and writings by the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords. Both outline the risks—personal and political—of the drug cultures that overlapped with, informed, and in some cases seemed to power the counterculture. The women’s liberation movement existed at the same time; participants in it were often also participants in other radical movements, and shared many of the same anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist frames of reference. Moreover, the women’s liberationist slogan “the personal is political” would seem to invite consideration of the motivations behind and ramifications of drug and alcohol use/abuse—more so even than the more performative and action-oriented philosophies of liberation rooted in masculinist struggles for public space, voice, and power.

Any Track Marks on that Arm?

It seems logical that the women’s liberation movement should be at least if not more concerned as its contemporaries about the toll exacted on its constituents by alcohol and drugs. Given that another similarity across these movements was a commitment to grassroots based print culture, it also seems reasonable to expect that we should be able to locate writings about the issue, which could form both an archive for historical research and, more practically, a usable past for contemporary activism.  With these logics in mind, I set out to cherchez les femmes des drogues.

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