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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Chess and . . . Drugs? Addiction and Recovery in The Queen’s Gambit

Editor’s Note: Did you miss us? We experienced some technical difficulties last week. Hopefully, we’re back up and running smoothly now. 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 fictional drug Xanzolam in The Queen’s Gambit. Image from Netflix.

Author’s Note: So as not to spoil The Queen’s Gambit for those who have not yet seen it, I will primarily focus on critical discourses of its depiction of drug and alcohol addiction in this post.

In the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic, in October 2020 Netflix released The Queen’s Gambit, a limited series adapted from the 1983 novel written by Walter Tevis examining the improbable rise of Beth Harmon, a fictional chess prodigy in the 1960s, as she strove to become a world champion in what, at the time, was exclusively a man’s game.

The show quickly became an unlikely success and cultural phenomenon, drawing over sixty million viewers less than a month after its debut. Critics and fans pointed to several factors to explain its unexpected popularity. They praised lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy’s compelling and dynamic portrayal of Harmon, as well as the program’s innovative cinematography that somehow made the world of chess dramatic and exciting. Many were smitten by its fidelity to a 1960s aesthetics, drawing comparisons to another period piece, the hit show Mad Men.

Others suggested that timing played a crucial role. Themes of loss, grief, alienation, and trauma figure heavily in the narrative, dramatizing what millions of people across the globe could identity with as they experienced the psychological and emotional distress caused by the pandemic. “It’s a show that seems tailor-made for our joy-starved minds in a somber modern world,” wrote cultural critic Kelly Lawler in a glowing review that deemed The Queen’s Gambit “the best piece of content in 2020.” And then there was the renewed mass interest in chess. Much like exercise equipment, chess sets quickly became unavailable in the pandemic economy as sales surged to staggering levels, increasing by as much as 1000 percent for some vendors.

The show also portrays copious amounts drug and alcohol consumption—another thematic element that perhaps helped to attract a large audience given spikes in substance abuse during the pandemic. A Google search of “The Queen’s Gambit” and pharmaceuticals yields dozens of articles explaining what, exactly, the drugs consumed in the show actually were. Most likely Librium or a similar benzodiazepine, Newsweek concluded.

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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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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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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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Remembering Civil Rights Lawyer Samuel Carter McMorris and his Fight Against Unjust Drug Laws & Police Brutality

Editor’s Note: Today’s post in honor of Black History Month comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).

Samuel Carter McMorris in the Makio, Ohio State University’s yearbook, in 1944.

In 1962, the United States Supreme Court struck down California’s “narcotics addict” law in the case Robinson v. California. Samuel Carter McMorris, the lawyer who argued and won the case, was a fierce criminal defense lawyer for the Black community in Los Angeles during a tumultuous era. Robinson was the second of two criminal cases McMorris successfully appealed to the Supreme Court, both of them at his own expense on behalf of indigent clients. Yet McMorris has been lost to history, left without so much as a Wikipedia page.

As McMorris knew, abuse was inherent in California’s narcotics addict law. A quarter of drug arrests in Los Angeles during the 1950s and early 1960s were solely for the crime of addiction, a charge that did not even require the physical presence of drugs themselves. The testimony of an officer that he had observed injection marks on the arm of a suspect was ordinarily enough evidence for a conviction. Police freely and frequently demanded that citizens roll up their sleeves and expose the insides of their arms so officers could inspect for needle marks. This “evidence” was so conclusive in court that suspects in custody sometimes disfigured themselves by burning the area with lit cigarettes. McMorris’s legal activism helped overturn the criminalization of addiction and this type of invasive drug enforcement.

Early Life

McMorris was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1920. His father, Arthur, was a policeman, and his mother, Marie, was a homemaker; Samuel had four younger sisters. When he graduated from East High School in 1937, his class named him both “most industrious” and “most conscientious.” He worked as a traveling salesman, served in the Army, then attended Ohio State University, where he attained a law degree in 1950. 

Pictured in 1950 with the staff of the Ohio State Law Journal, Samuel Carter McMorris was the first Black student to serve in that role.

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