American Drug History, The Box Set

Over at the blog Mexican Opium, Mikelis Beitiks has began to assemble a “Wordtrack” on the history of American drug law–a kind of “greatest hits” collection of published work in the field. He has completed Disc 1 and Disc 2, and I’m fully confident that–given enough time on Beitiks’ part–he could assemble a nice box set of work, well in advance of the holiday shopping season. Readers of this blog may remember this collegial exchange I had with Beitiks regarding that history; his greatest hits list is highly personal–there’s no attempt here to do anything but reflect on work he found helpful or inspiring–but it makes for interesting reading. If it wasn’t such a personal list, it would be great fun to disagree with some of his choices, or his reading of those choices. But, in the event, I’ll simply say that there IS a great deal of now older work in the field that’s worthy of another look. I found it useful, recently, to go back and stop treating David Musto’s The American Disease as a reference volume (though surely it works well as such) and try and come to terms with its argument.

If I were Beitiks, I might consider first adding Alfred Lindesmith’s The Addict and the Law to my list. Now unfortunately well out of print, Lindesmith’s 1965 work is less well known, I think, than his work on opiate addiction (which IS still in print; his Opiate Addictions was first published in 1947, the re-published in 1968 as Addiction and Opiates, which was re-printed in paperback in 2008). That’s too bad. While his sociological theorizing on addiction has been pretty well demolished (see Darin Weinberg’s brilliant critical take, “Lindesmith on Addiction: A Critical History of a Classic Theory,” Sociological Theory 15 (1997), 150-161), his policy work remains fascinating. The Addict and the Law appeared at the tail end of what David Courtwright has called the “classic era” of narcotic control, and it is a detailed recounting of what drug control looked like during the decades (the 1930s to the 1960s) when Lindesmith functioned as one of the best-known academic critics of American drug law and policy. Back in 2000, David Patrick Keys and John F. Galliher published Confronting the Drug Control Establishment: Alfred Lindesmith as a Public Intellectual (SUNY Press, 2000), which examined the intersection of his scholarship with his commitments to drug law reform (and, of course, the heavy-handed response from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics). Their work is a useful adjunct to a review of Lindesmith’s work, but by all means start with the original, The Addict and the Law.

Wachovia’s Drug Habit

The Observer reports on how Wachovia – one of the United State’s largest banks before it was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2008 – laundered billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels between 2004 and 2006, if not longer. This is not particularly surprising – Bloomberg reported on Wachovia’s money laundering about a year ago, and critics have long pointed to the central role of banks in the international black market. But it is grotesque, in ways obvious enough that I probably don’t need to elucidate them.

Anyway, what’s really interesting to me here is the way drug money helped save the banking industry from collapsing during the financial meltdown. This quote from the Observer article jumped out at me:

At the height of the 2008 banking crisis, Antonio Maria Costa, then head of the United Nations office on drugs and crime, said he had evidence to suggest the proceeds from drugs and crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to banks on the brink of collapse. “Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade” he said. “There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.”

So drug money kept at least some of the banks afloat during the crash. At the same time, of course, taxpayers did their part. Indeed, Wachovia was purchasaed by Wells Fargo around the same time that it received $25 billion in taxpayer dollars. Wells Fargo wasn’t accused of laundering, and apparently cooperated with federal investigators, but nobody associated with Wachovia went to jail for the laundering and Wells Fargo ended up paying only tiny damages for the illegal activity of its acquisition – just $169 million.

So there you go. Taxpayers and drug cartels, working together to keep the banks afloat. Glad to see everything is working out as planned.

The Points Interview: Bruce Stewart

It is a pleasure to present the lucky seventh installment of the Points Interview, with Bruce Stewart joining us to discuss his new book, Moonshiners and Prohibitionists.   The book has just been released by the University Press of Kentucky, as part of its excellent New Directions in Southern History series, and offers a fresh take on moonshining and its relation to the politics of prohibition.  Prof. Stewart is assistant professor of history at Appalachian State University.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-Book cover of Moonshiners and Prohibitionistsstreet) could understand.

This book explains how prohibition sentiment, which was originally championed by middle-class townspeople, ultimately became embraced by rural Americans at the turn of the twentieth century.  To demonstrate how and why this change occurred, the book chronicles western North Carolinians’ changing perceptions of local alcohol distillers (many of whom would become moonshiners after the enactment of federal liquor taxation in 1862) throughout the nineteenth century.  Before the 1880s, licit distillers were viewed as entrepreneurs who provided local communities with a product (alcohol) the promoted social cohesion.  Mountain residents also supported illicit distillers (or moonshiners), believing that the federal liquor tax threatened local autonomy.  After the 1880s, the image of alcohol manufacturers (legal and illegal) took a turn for the worse.  Portrayed as social deviants who converted “the staff of life” into “poison,” distillers on both sides of law came under attack from rural residents who – like their urban counterparts – began to advocate for statewide prohibition.  Why did this change in attitude occur?  Continue reading “The Points Interview: Bruce Stewart”

Gender and Campus Drinking 101

Vice-President Biden was at the University of New Hampshire today to riff on Gertrude Stein and remind students and faculty that “rape is rape is rape.” The occasion?  Justice Department pressure on colleges and universities to improve campus safety around the issue of sexual assault.  As an NPR story noted this morning, 1 in 5 female undergraduates will be the victim of such an assault, and (surprise!) “often alcohol is involved.”  Ready for another surprise?  Female students who are assaulted after they have been drinking, or after they have attended functions where alcohol has been consumed, are frequently seen as less than credible witnesses on their own behalf.

NPR’s coverage of the issue included attention to several of UNH’s harm-reduction programs, including the Know Your Power social marketing campaign:KYP poster

Know Your Power “uses a community of responsibility model to teach bystanders how to intervene safely and effectively in cases where sexual assault may be occurring or where there may be risk.”  Its graphics may not be the suavist, but Continue reading “Gender and Campus Drinking 101”

Historical Scholarship as a Subordinate Enterprise

I was recently speaking with a very prominent psychiatrist about the history and science of various mental illnesses, and he told something along the lines of “what historians can do to help is to explain how diseases came to be defined as they are; that way we can have a better idea of what we are dealing with.” I looked at him for a moment, and thought to myself: “Fine, but what can you do to help me?” Of course I didn’t say that. The question of what he could do to help historians better understand the past had clearly never crossed his mind. So I just nodded and smiled and muttered something that he didn’t find particularly interesting. We soon moved on to talking about the beer selection.

I mention this anecdote to bring up what I consider one of the central problems facing historians and other scholars in the humanities interested in doing interdisciplinary work: our relatively lowly status in the institutional and epistemological academic food chain. I’ve very much enjoyed reading both Michelle McClellan‘s and Trysh Travis’s posts about the general lack of interest among feminist scholars toward addiction studies, but my initial response to both posts was: “hey, disinterest may not be so bad. At least they aren’t insulting you.” I’ve spent a bit of time here and there working with people from the so-called “hard” sciences, and I’ve found it surprisingly easy to walk away from those conversations feeling a bit put off. I don’t think the scientists involved in these conversations have been intentionally trying to insult me, but they sure have done a good job at it nonetheless – and I’m not particularly sensitive to such things. Here, then, is an issue that I think those of us working in the humanities need to confront: the assumed subordinate position of our disciplines to the sciences in the hierarchy of academic knowledge production.Continue reading “Historical Scholarship as a Subordinate Enterprise”

Also Not for the Squeamish (Or for Anybody, Apparently)– Feminist Alcohol and Drugs Scholarship

Earlier today, Points Contributing Editor Michelle McClellan used her experience in a near-empty room at a Women’s Studies conference to explore the difficulty of crossing disciplinary borders to do meaningful research on addiction.  This was a very mature thing for her to do.  Let me lower the tone of discussion a bit by drawing attention to her mention of the absurd ratio of panelists (4) to audience members (1) at her presentation.  I had a similar experience at the National Women’s Studies Association annual meeting in 2009 Continue reading “Also Not for the Squeamish (Or for Anybody, Apparently)– Feminist Alcohol and Drugs Scholarship”

Interdisciplinary Collaboration–Not for the Squeamish

It might sound like the beginning of a bad joke: one historian, two social workers, and a psychologist walk into a conference room…. but there we were, at the Michigan Women’s Studies Association conference last weekend, ready to launch an interdisciplinary discussion of issues related to addiction and gender.  (The conference, “Leading the Way: Feminism, Education, and Social Change,” was hosted by Grand Valley State University ).

Which brings us to the second joke:  If you deliver a conference presentation in an empty room, does it make a sound?  At first, my colleagues and I, all from the University of Michigan, were the only ones there.  Granted, this was the last session of the day, after a rousing keynote event that felt like the climax of the conference, so I hadn’t expected a packed room, but still!  After an awkward pause, we determined that we might as well offer our prepared remarks to one another.  A few minutes in, one brave soul arrived to serve as audience.  Even though she was outnumbered by the panelists at 4:1, the audience member asked several questions after each presentation.  Many of her queries sought information and clarification, while others challenged our basic assumptions.  I have no doubt that the necessity to articulate our ideas for her forced us to achieve greater clarity, in ways we might not have talking only to one another.  Among ourselves, we risked falling into a kind of academic shorthand that actually obscured more than it revealed, especially given our disciplinary differences.Continue reading “Interdisciplinary Collaboration–Not for the Squeamish”

Wait a Minute– Meth is the New Meth!

In a startling reversal of last week’s panic over Oxycontin, the NY Times reported today that many states are facing “a surging methamphetamine problem,” and contemplating a drastic measure to stop it: making the pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines that are meth’s precursors available by prescription only.  Oregon and Mississippi have already done this, apparently to great effect. Unsurprisingly, however, the healthcare industry is not wild about such a move towards “over-regulation” and its attendant

Don't Deprive Them of the Sudafed They Deserve! (Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt, Flickr)

disenfranchisement of innocent Americans exercising their rights to  convenient cold remedies.  Healthcare industry lobbyists have successfully stalled legislation in a variety of states, over the objections of local law enforcement officials and community groups.  Points readers interested in the full story of meth –the drug’s changing role in rural communities, its place in the global drugs traffic, its significant human costs, and the role that lobbyists have played in keeping the meth supply chain strong and well-lubricated– would do well to check out Nick Reding’s compelling Methland: the Death and Life of an American Small Town. Reding’s nuanced reportage usefully fills the gap between the competing banalities of moral panic-mongers and their libertarian counterparts (of both left and right wing varieties), demonstrating conclusively that drug addiction has personal and social dimensions–and requires personal and social remedies.

Recovery Lifestyle, 2.0

Today witnesses the launch of, a new “sober lifestyles” site offering “addiction and recovery, straight up” (their words, not mine).  The site is the brainchild of former magazine publisher and recovering alcohol abuser Maer Roshan, who discovered recently while getting sober that in recovery you find “people who are united by their values, united by their mission; there’s a common lingo, common literature [and] an actual community here.”  Surprise!– he also notes in an interview in today’s NY Times that “it is a community that advertisers will discover is large and eager to spend: ‘The demographics are really good.'”

A quick read of The Fix’s front page suggests how Roshan and his backers plan to appeal to that demographic.  Continue reading “Recovery Lifestyle, 2.0”

The Points Interview: Sarah Meacham

We’re delighted to present the sixth installment of the Points Interview, in which we make our first foray into the colonial period in North America.  Points talks with Prof. Sarah Hand Meacham, author of Every Home a Distillery: Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).  Prof. Meacham is currently an assistant professor in the Department of History at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Every Home a Distillery employs some skillful historical detective work to examine women’s role in the manufacturing of alcoholic beverages, and the manner in which men ultimately asserted their own primacy in that field of endeavor.

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

In Every Home a Distillery: Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), I analyze the interesting question of how Cover of Every Home a Distillerytechnology and science came to be defined as men’s domain. No one had realized that from the late seventeenth century until the late eighteenth century it was typically women in the Chesapeake (that is the eastern areas of Virginia and Maryland) who made alcohol. Our contemporary assumptions and the historic documents themselves have hidden women’s labor. For instance, tavern licenses were almost always given to men. When I began wondering what kind of credentials a man gave the court in order to be considered for a license, I discovered that all the men who received licenses were married to women with tavern-keeping experience. These were women who had grown up helping their mothers run taverns. The men received the licenses because that was how the law worked, but it was the wives who were doing much of the day-to-day labor of managing the tavern. This makes sense when you consider that the men needed to be away managing farms or other businesses. But if you looked at the legal documents alone, and not the genealogies of the businesses, it would appear as if women had nothing to do with the taverns. That’s one example of how the historic documents can sometimes lead us astray.Continue reading “The Points Interview: Sarah Meacham”

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