Points Interview: Carl Erik Fisher

Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Carl Erik Fisher, the author of The Urge: Our History of Addiction (Penguin Press, 2022). Carl is an addiction psychiatrist, bioethics scholar, and author. He is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, where he studies and teaches law, ethics, and policy relating to psychiatry and neuroscience, especially issues related to substance use disorders and other addictive behaviors. The interview was conducted by Dr David Herzberg, Editor of the Social History of Alcohol & Drugs.

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An American Way of Working

In Methadone: An American Way of Dealing, work is everywhere. Dayton, Ohio, the film’s primary location, is introduced to us as a “manufacturing community” beset by crime. These two types of work—factory and crime—come up again and again while we are in town. Straight work, at GM, or at a foundry, leads to getting high just to bear it, to “paint over the factory,” as one young worker puts it, and get through another soul-killing shift. Staying in the plant and getting by on methadone instead is tough. We meet only one worker doing this; he is trying to taper off and not making it, missing shifts for the first time because he feels so low.  We meet many workers who have chosen to stay outside the factory, period, and stay high all the time. They claim they are living a better, more real life than their fathers did, trooping into factories every day with their coveralls and lunchboxes, “sheep” meekly accepting their slaughter.  As the film notes, with its passing shots of street preachers and sex shows, the straight life is studded with its own addictive consolations. Dayton, we are told, has “1000 bars and just one [methadone] clinic.” 

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Methadone: An American Way of Thinking

In 1976, the East German government stole and repurposed for its own broadcasts a copy of Julia Reichert’s and James Klein’s documentary film, Methadone: An American Way of Dealing. The theft was clumsy, almost unabashedly so, in the way that GDR intrusions often could be. Reichert and Klein had submitted the film for consideration in the 19th annual Leipzig Documentary Film Festival, but it was rejected for having been delivered to the committee after the deadline. When the film print was returned to the directors, it obviously had been cut and only partially reassembled. The original reels on which it had left the U.S. were gone, replaced by film cores. The leaders (the length of cellulose attached to the beginning or end of a film to assist the projectionist) were in German, not English. To add insult to injury, the package arrived with an exorbitant bill for cash-on-delivery shipping. 

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“I envision the methadone clinic as we now know it disappearing”: The promises and failures of methadone and LAAM

I’ve watched Methadone: An American Way of Dealing five times now. Each time, I’m taken aback by how skillfully directors Julia Reichert and James Klein present this moment—a period of peak tension in the addiction treatment community. By 1974, when the film was released, the early promises of methadone were butting up, often painfully, against the era’s difficult realities. Through interviews with patients at the Dayton, Ohio, Bureau of Drug Abuse clinic (BUDA) at the center of the film, Reichert and Klein make it clear that methadone, once hailed as the solution to the decade’s twin problems of addiction and crime, couldn’t overcome the era’s other issues: deindustrialization, Vietnam, and America’s trends toward atomization and its concomitant political right turn. 

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The Points Methadone Marathon

Methadone Movie Title Card

Welcome to the home page for the Points Methadone Marathon!

January marks ten years since the launch of the Points blog, and to celebrate this historic milestone, we’re invoking another, larger anniversary: passage of The Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act of 1972 (Public Law 92-255). The ramifications of this law were far-reaching, not only in the “war on drugs” but also in the less-scrutinized evolution of substance abuse treatment. Methadone was the place where theorists of criminal justice and treatment met and—briefly—danced. In the shadow of the radical critiques both had suffered during the 1960s, they looked to find a cost-effective and empowering way to combat heroin addiction. But like so many grand ideas from this particular moment in time, things didn’t quite work out according to plan.

The reasons for that are many, of course, and the ramifications are legion; the Points Methadone Marathon aims to unpack them all. We kick off with an exclusive screening of James Klein and Julia Reichert’s outstanding 1974 film Methadone: An American Way of Dealing. This cinema verité classic was deemed too controversial for wide release back in the day, and has long been out of circulation. Thanks to the generosity of James Klein, you can see it here now at the link embedded below.

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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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