Mothers on the Frontlines: The Addict’s Mom

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. 

“Nobody is more determined or more affected by the disease of addiction than a mother,” ardently declared Leisha Underwood, the Executive Director of The Addict’s Mom (TAM) at a “Fed Up” event in Washington, DC, in September 2016. Seeking to raise awareness about drug addiction and the urgent need for legislative reforms, Underwood continued: “Nobody will ever fight harder to save a child. The societal stigma and misunderstanding experienced by mothers simply trying to save their children can be crippling.” 

Underwood’s impassioned speech captured the emotionally fierce reformist spirit and steadfast determination of the more than 150,000 members of the grassroots movement that is TAM. The group practices a unique version of passionate politics in which aggrieved mothers (hence “fed up”) voice their discontent sorrowfully and tearfully. As one paper noted, “The Addict’s Mom may be walking into stiff headwinds, but there’s strength in numbers. And as groups like MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] have taught us, there’s nothing more powerful than a mom on a mission.”

Members of The Addict’s Mom participate in a “Lights of Hope” event in 2016
(Source).

Barbara Theodosiou, the founder of TAM, is illustrative of the groundswell of emotional politics practiced by the burgeoning army of mothers tenaciously and mercilessly opposed to current forms of drug control. Theodosiou took to Facebook to form the online group TAM in 2008 upon learning that two of her children were addicted to drugs. After suffering from severe bouts of depression that psychologically, and, to an extent, physically paralyzed her, Theodosiou channeled her emotional pain toward productive ends.

She created a community where mothers could, as she explained, “share without shame.” The stigma of drug addiction deeply troubled Theodosiou, and she believed that shame impeded progress toward a more enlightened and compassionate approach to treating addicts. “Society views addicts as dirty and ugly,” she asserted in analyzing the social stigmatization of addiction within an idiom of disgust. Such feelings of shame led to isolation and despair, and she sensed that thousands of mothers in her situation also experienced emotional repression detrimental to their personal well-being.

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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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Biden’s Opioid Plan: Punishment Disguised as Treatment

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.

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Teaching Points: Lessons from Drug History for the Classroom

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.

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This is Your Brain on Critical Consciousness: Countering Drug War Propaganda with Critical Information Literacy

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.

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Craft Weed offers clear-eyed optimism on cannabis farming, regulation

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.

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“All that was missing were the hugs”: Virtual Recovery in the Era of the Pandemic

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.  

Because of precautionary measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, the sites where traditional recovery meetings were held faced mass closures, disrupting networks and leaving addicts without a vital source of support.
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Points Interview: David Farber

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.

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Defunding the (Drug) Police

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University.

Defunding the police triumphed at the polls, even if we do not call it that. And it was bipartisan. By defunding, I mean Washington D.C. voting to decriminalize psilocybin, Oregon voters approving two landmark reform measures—Measure 109, which legalized psilocybin therapies, and Measure 110, decriminalizing personal possession of all drugs–as well as the four states that legalize recreational cannabis (New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana, along with Mississippi which passed medical cannabis). These are significant reforms and reveal a couple of things.

First, the Oregon measure recognizes a fundamental reality in American life: drug use is already decriminalized and legal for wealthy people. Second, there is no separation between recreational and medical drug use, other than more affluent, whiter segments of the population receive prescriptions from doctors, and poor people do not. Finally, one interpretation is that voters are coming to understand arresting people for drug possession does not help individuals, improve public safety, or provide obvious benefits to anyone. Instead, it controls poor people in a society that, unlike its peer nations, fails to provide essential services, whether it is healthcare, housing, medical care, paid leave. The only service the poor receive comes through the criminal punishment system. Let’s touch on all these points.

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Pot on Television: A Break from Election Anxiety

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

It needed to be done. After an election day [week] spent trying to avoid the inane punditry on cable news (by endlessly refreshing news sites and counting the number of different ways CNN.com tried to headline Joe Biden’s impending electoral victory), I decided to take a break and binge-watch a few recently released cannabis-themed shows I had planned on reviewing for Points in the coming months.

As someone who isn’t a culinary expert (but has 12 years’ of foodservice background), isn’t a particularly avid watcher of food shows (though I’m still obsessed with Alton Brown’s Good Eats), nor is a television critic (though an avid fan of the small-screen), what follows is my review of Vice TV’s Bong Appétit (2016-2017) and its third season re-boot Bong Appétit: Cook-Off (2019), alongside a brief introduction to the Netflix shows Cooked on High (2018) and Netflix’s Cooked with Cannabis (2020).

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