The Way Back Machine—Jim Baumohl, Advocate for Research about Drugs, Alcohol, Poverty, and Homelessness, Part II

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth 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.”

This is the Part II of Trysh Travis’s interview with Jim Baumhol. Be sure to read Part I of their wide-ranging conversation!

Most historians of alcohol and drugs know Jim Baumohl for two classic articles that examine alcohol institutions and policy history: “Inebriety, Doctors, and the State” (1987, with Robin Room) and “Building Systems to Manage Inebriates: The Divergent Paths of California and Massachusetts, 1891–1920” (1994, with Sarah Tracy). Few, however, are familiar with his rich body of work on poverty and homelessness—a polymorphous collection of research articles, white papers, and agency reports that basically map the US government’s failure to adequately imagine (much less implement) solutions to those issues in the post-Great Society era.

Like many of the folks featured in The Way Back Machine series, Jim Baumohl’s life during the 1970s and ‘80s featured a mix of political, intellectual, and research work. The rapidly shifting policy landscape created a set of conditions that invited creative, big-picture thinking as well as a strange mix of unabashed idealism and self-preserving sarcasm. All of these were on brilliant display when Points Managing Editor Emeritus Trysh Travis sat down with Jim for a two-part interview. Read Part I of their conversation.

Part II

Trysh Travis: Now all the pieces come together: unhoused youth and alcohol/drugs become “a thing” in the mid-1970s.

Jim Baumhol: Yes, but attention to that thing was operationalized in different ways. Some programs, like Manhattan’s The Door, were run by smart, experienced, and inventive professionals who understood young people and their dismal economic prospects in those years. The Door, which I first visited in 1977, I think, was the best funded, broadest, and most culturally diverse and sophisticated alternative service I ever saw. Perhaps most impressive, they took a variety of funding streams intended to support narrow purposes and provided a wide ranging, seamless, and individualized experience for their clients. As any program administrator will attest, that’s quite an achievement.

Way Back Machine Title Card Baumhol II

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The Way Back Machine—Jim Baumohl, Advocate for Research about Drugs, Alcohol, Poverty, and Homelessness

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth 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.”

Most historians of alcohol and drugs know Jim Baumohl for two classic articles that examine alcohol institutions and policy history: “Inebriety, Doctors, and the State” (1987, with Robin Room) and “Building Systems to Manage Inebriates: The Divergent Paths of California and Massachusetts, 1891–1920” (1994, with Sarah Tracy). Few, however, are familiar with his rich body of work on poverty and homelessness—a polymorphous collection of research articles, white papers, and agency reports that basically map the US government’s failure to adequately imagine (much less implement) solutions to those issues in the post-Great Society era.

Currently Professor Emeritus of Social Work at Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, Baumohl began his career in the most direct of “direct service” jobs, doing street outreach with runaway youth in Berkeley during the early 1970s. With Henry Miller (no, not that Henry Miller!), he authored Down and Out in Berkeley: An Overview of a Study of Street People (1974) while earning an MSW in Berkeley’s Social Welfare program.

He worked as an itinerant researcher, consultant, and tenant organizer while completing his PhD, which culminated in his dissertation “Dashaways and Doctors: The Treatment of Habitual Drunkards in San Francisco from the Gold Rush to Prohibition.” This field-defining monograph reveals the degree to which innovations in alcohol services generally attributed to the vague forces of “medicalization” and “the Progressive era” were intimately tied to the culture and politics of specific states. Baumohl is now at work on a suite of articles that look at California’s management of alcohol and other drugs—and of the people who used them excessively—from statehood in 1850 to the closure of the California State Narcotic Hospital in 1941.

Like many of the folks featured in The Way Back Machine series, Jim Baumohl’s life during the 1970s and ‘80s featured a mix of political, intellectual, and research work. The rapidly shifting policy landscape created a set of conditions that invited creative, big-picture thinking as well as a strange mix of unabashed idealism and self-preserving sarcasm. All of these were on brilliant display when Points Managing Editor Emeritus Trysh Travis sat down with Jim for a two-part interview.

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Addiction Lives Interview: Moira Plant

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of the “Addiction Lives” interview project, a print and online collaboration between the Society for the Study of Addiction and the journal Addiction.

Society for the Study of Addiction logo

Today’s featured interview is with Professor Moira Plant.

Dr. Plant is Emeritus Professor of Alcohol Studies at the University of West of England in Bristol, UK, and Adjunct Professor at Curtin University Perth Australia. Her main research interests include women, alcohol, and mental health; drinking in pregnancy; and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. She has published on these and related subjects in peer reviewed journals and books. Dr. Plant was the UK lead on the Gender Alcohol and Culture: An International Project (GENACIS) which now includes more than 40 countries worldwide. She has acted as consultant to the World Health Organization, the UK and other governments, the Centre for Addiction Research & Education Scotland (CARES) and is a UK consultant to the US Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD). Dr. Plant is a psychotherapist and trains and supervises counselors.

In this 2018 interview, Professor Virginia Berridge interviews Dr. Plant about her experiences working in alcohol clinical and research settings.

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Opioids, Overdose, Abstinence—A Historically Deadly Combination

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

We have told ourselves the “opioid crisis” is an exception to past drug scares. In the past century, the narrative goes, we relied on law enforcement and punishment to curb widescale drug use, but our country now has turned over a new leaf—one centered on public health and compassion. Had it not been for Purdue Pharma, a uniquely bad actor, the spread of addiction and overdose deaths would have never occurred.

None of this is true. Rhetorically, yes, smart politicians now deemphasize the punishment aspect in public speeches. But law enforcement plays a greater role than ever before in regulating the use of drugs—from the zealous policing of some people who use illegal drugs to expansive prescription monitoring programs and from the detailed cataloging of the dosage of Americans’ medications to DEA to threats to doctors who fail to obey their dictates. Such strict and exacting regulations often leave elderly patients and patients with chronic pain out in the cold unable to secure necessary drugs. Yet, at the same time, prohibitionist drug control measures have also done little to stop the proliferation of black-market drugs.

Far from being a deviation, this has long been the norm and with often devastating results. Regardless of your thoughts about current events, this post will let us look back and travel to the past to try to clarify why overdose deaths continue to increase now despite a dramatic recent decrease in opioid prescriptions. And why this situation unlikely to change under current conditions. For about the last century, the United States government has abided by a philosophy that seems to prioritize drug abstinence and the strict policing of drug use at the expense of saving lives. To investigate this continuity, I will briefly examine two episodes: a 1930s critique of an early version of the war on drugs and the government’s opposition to needle exchanges during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

Points Hudson Title Card Opioids
Left: A 10 milligram OxyContin pill. Source: Wikimedia Foundation.

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“Ethical Displays”: AIHP’s Frank Pinchak Poster Collection & the History of Public Health Information

Editor’s Note: From the Collections highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from publications and historical collections of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). In this post, Points Managing Editor and AIHP Head Archivist Greg Bond describes the Institute’s Frank Pinchak Poster Collection.

“Records indicate that over 90 MILLION AMERICANS still need to be vaccinated,” blares the 26-inch by 42-inch professionally printed cardboard poster. “Epidemics start in neighborhoods where there are large concentrations of unvaccinated people,” the text screams. This disease “has not been controlled,” the poster alarmingly concludes, “because the public has been lax about being inoculated.”

These messages appear not in a current COVID-19 pandemic public service announcement. Instead, this poster was part of a three-piece educational pharmacy window display from sixty years ago titled, “1960 Polio Report from your Pharmacist.” The poster noted that “infants and children under five are victims” and sought to educate the public about the dangerous and, then still circulating, poliovirus and the available Salk vaccine.

This poster set is one of about 40 public health education pharmacy window display sets in the Frank Pinchak Poster Collection at the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. Pinchak, a registered pharmacist from Paterson, New Jersey, produced and marketed such educational displays from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Pinchak Poster Polio Report 1960
Section of “1960 Polio Report From Your Pharmacist” pharmacy window display poster set from the AIHP Pinchak Poster Collection. Image courtesy of AIHP. Please click on any photo in this post to see a larger image.

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Addictions, Media, and Power: Jay Richard Kennedy and Mind Control

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece, an associate professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She is the author of The Optical Vacuum: Spectatorship and Modernized American Theater Architecture (Oxford University Press, 2018) and the co-editor of Ends of Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).

In my earlier post, I told the story of To the Ends of the Earth, a docufiction hybrid about drug smuggling made with the assistance of Harry Anslinger. That movie’s production history includes Columbia Pictures and director Robert Stevenson, but the real engine behind the film was Jay Richard Kennedy, the credited Associate Producer. Born Samuel Solomonick, Kennedy was one of the twentieth century’s strangest and least-known charlatans. His bizarre career encompassed all manner of cultural phenomena: Hollywood, psychotherapy, drug and alcohol addictions, the Age of Aquarius, and, eventually, self-help cults. Like most self-aggrandizing fabricators, he kept focus on a single goal: the best way to manipulate American minds.

After his collaboration with Anslinger, Kennedy realized that mind control was not only possible with drugs and media. Another option was the talking cure. Kennedy’s wife, Dr. Janet Alterman Kennedy, was licensed in psychotherapy, and, like many therapists of her moment, Dr. Kennedy used psychodynamics, in which the interactions of the mind’s deepest energies were supposed to shape both the patient’s consciousness and reactions to other people. Kennedy found this irresistible. In 1949, a year after the release of To the Ends of the Earth, Kennedy wrote an article for the The Screenwriter arguing that the twentieth century’s two most important developments in constructive science and art were psychodynamics and film. Both, he wrote, served the “maximum function of revealing man to himself” [1].

These sentiments aptly summarized the later thrust of his life: that media and psychology were two sides of an instrument that ultimately promised control over others. As he had learned from Anslinger, mass media—like narcotics—were useful for tightening a grip on power. But without strict standards for both drugs and media, he believed, everyday Americans would become addicts and normal spectators would be transformed into madmen. Healing American society required specific approaches to addiction, governance, and media, and Kennedy knew the cure.

Jay Richard Kennedy Title Card
Left: Jay Richard Kennedy at his desk in 1953. Source: Parade Magazine, March 29, 1953.

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Addiction Lives Interviews: Betsy Thom and Harry Shapiro

Editor’s Note: With this post, Points is pleased to inaugurate a new regular feature highlighting interviews from the “Addiction Lives” interview project, a print and online collaboration between the Society for the Study of Addiction and the journal Addiction.

Society for the Study of Addiction logo

The journal Addiction’s long-running interview series, “Addiction Interviews,” was reintroduced in 2017 as “Addiction Lives,” a joint print/web collaboration with the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA). The new series, under the editorship of Professor Virginia Berridge, was introduced in an Addiction editorial by Jean O’Reilly and Robert West in December 2017.

The original “Addiction Interviews” ran for 36 years (from 1979–2015) under the editorship of Professor Griffith Edwards. The series provided wide-ranging conversations with more than 100 people who had contributed to the field of addiction studies at local, national, and international levels. It focused in particular on the field’s scientists and those who developed links with policy.  A virtual issue of Addiction available in the Wiley Online Library provides links to the full series of 111 interviews and includes a reflection from Thomas Babor about the series.

The new interviews continue the same mission as the original series and focus on the views and personal experiences of people who have made particular contributions to the evolution of ideas in the field. The full interviews are posted online on the SSA website and a summary is published in Addiction. The original interviews were largely unstructured, and the interviewers remained anonymous. The online platform now allows for the inclusion of enhanced content such as audio and video recordings and linked short bibliographies of the interviewees’ work. Addiction continues to commission the series and suggestions for interviewees are always welcome! Please email any suggestions to jean@addictionjournal.org.

Today’s featured interviews are with Professor Betsy Thom and Harry Shapiro.

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Hidden Addicts: The Elderly and the Opioid Epidemic

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. 

“The face of the nation’s opioid epidemic increasingly is gray and wrinkled,” wrote The Washington Post in 2018, “but that face often is overlooked in a crisis that frequently focuses on the young.” Since the early 2000s, medical experts have grown alarmed by the precipitous rise in opioid-related hospitalizations and deaths among the elderly and deeply concerned that the burgeoning crisis among the geriatric population was going unnoticed.

They pointed to several factors to explain the phenomenon but primarily blamed polypharmacy—the practice of prescribing patients multiple, often dozens of, medications—for the dramatic increase in addiction rates. “An increasing number of elderly patients nationwide are on multiple medications to treat chronic diseases,” one specialist claimed, “raising their chances of dangerous drug interactions and serious side effects. Often the drugs are prescribed by different specialists who don’t communicate with each other.” Older Americans are essentially being pharmaceuticalized, medicated to death, or, at the very least, subjected to extreme distress.

Narrative Medicine

Overprescribing, as the Washington Post article noted, often results from a fractured medical community that impedes the type of collaboration and communication between practitioners necessary for providing integrated regimens tailored for specific patients. Instead of individualized care, elderly patients often receive standardized treatments, that emphasize the use of pharmaceuticals to alleviate chronic pain.

To better serve their patients, physicians need to listen more intently and more empathetically to fully understand the causes of their distress. In other words, they need to practice what Dr. Rita Charon, Professor of Medicine at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, has called “narrative medicine.

By asking pointed questions about both mental and physical health, practitioners can prompt patients to explain their suffering and to situate their pain in narratives and stories that help foster more thoughtful patient-doctor relationships and, consequently, provide intimate and targeted care. Charon writes that:

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