Some people like to shoot dope: Ideology and pragmatism in the film ‘Methadone: An American Way of Dealing’

Author: David Frank

People on methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) are in a difficult position. I should know since I’ve been on it for close to 20 years. They are caught in the space between a program that helps them in a way that is primarily pragmatic – by providing access to a safe and consistent supply of opioids outside of the difficult and dangerous conditions created by prohibition/criminalization – and our culture’s need to frame everything drug related through the ideological narrative of “addiction” and “recovery.” In short, MMT enables criminalized drug users to decriminalize their opioid use, and yet, like the emperor who wears no clothes, it must publicly masquerade as a “treatment for addiction” so as to not disrupt the War on Drugs ideologies that require firm distinctions between “drug” and “medicine”; “addict” and “non-addict”. It’s no wonder that people end up a little confused.

Methadone: An American Way of Dealing captures these contradictions playing out in real time.

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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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Points Interview—Helena Barop, Poppy Wars: US Global Drug Policies, 1950–1979

Barop Title Card

Editor’s Note: Today, we’re pleased to interview Dr. Helena Barop about her new book , Mohnblumenkriege. Die globale Drogenpolitik der USA 1950-1979—or Poppy Wars: US Global Drug Policies, 1950–1979. Dr. Barop recently received her PhD from the University of Freiburg.

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The War on Drugs: From Book to Website

War on Drugs Project

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is from Dr. David Farber, Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Modern U.S. History at the University of Kansas. He is the editor of the recently published, War on Drugs: A History (NYU Press, 2021).

Over the last 36-and-a-half years I have done what research-oriented history professors of my generation were supposed to do: I wrote books and published articles. What I did not do—until now—was produce a website. Defying the ageist canard about old dogs and new tricks—albeit admittedly in collaboration with my much younger colleagues Clark Terrill and Marjorie Galelli—I’m happy to report that the War on Drugs Project website is now live.

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“Blah Blah Blah”: The Fallacy of United Nations Drug Summits

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

Blah Blah Blah” was the conclusion of environmental activist Greta Thunberg after the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. As Thunberg’s response indicates, thirty years of constructive climate dialogue has resulted in few changes—just the kicking of the status-quo can down the road—even though twenty eight climate summits since 1995 have spent billions of dollars on travel, salaries, marketing, public relations, lobbying and other resources. All of this with little to show. Dreams drowned in “empty words and promises” and no concrete results, as Thunberg said.

The same lack of progress could be said about the United Nations and its conferences about drug control. Instead of using children and young adults for their propaganda machine, though, they exploit the victims of the illicit drug trade in developing countries to advance their anti-drug rhetoric and empty promises.

UN 1965 opium tracking
At the laboratory of the Division of Narcotic Drugs of the UN Secretariat, located in Geneva, Dr. Olav Braenden (Norway), Chief of the Laboratory (left), and Mrs. Jane Beck (United Kingdom), indicate the regions where opium is produced in 1965. Image courtesy of the United Nations. UN Photo/PP, (Unique identifier: UN7632427).

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What We Left Behind in Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

After twenty years of nation-building in Afghanistan, the United States leaves behind a country in shambles. It might be argued that we slowed down the momentum of terrorist cells and that we kept the Taliban in check for two decades. But there seem to be few positive long-terms stories to highlight—perhaps the empowerment of Afghan women; but that might not last very long under renewed Taliban rule.

Afghanistan is rich in natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious/semiprecious stones, and arable land [1]. But, during the American presence, the country was not targeted by the Western private sector to harness these potential economic development capabilities. The only real area of growth over the last two decades was opium production—that is perhaps our legacy in Afghanistan.

According to the most recent “Afghanistan Opium Survey” report of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan is the largest opium producer in the world [2]. UNODC also reported that the Taliban was the biggest buyer of opium and the biggest collector of opium production taxes as well [3]. Moreover, “sales of opium and poppy derivatives constituted the main source of income” for more than half of the population, and the “gross income from opiates exceeded the value of the country’s officially recorded licit exports in 2019″ [4].

Left: A poppy field in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 3, 2013. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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Inspector Boden Burns It All: The Story of a Pioneering California Drug Warrrior, 1907–1927

Editor’s Note: Today’s post 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).

What a time to be a historian. An embarrassment of digitized newsprint has made it possible to pursue all sorts of angles and stories, to chase all kinds of people not just down a rabbit hole but all around a rabbits’ warren.  Fred C. Boden is one such person who has always caught my eye. A corpulent and bombastic city cop, Boden became one of California’s, and thus one of the nation’s, first state drug enforcement officers. From the passage of California’s state Poison Act around 1907 until his death 20 years later, Pharmacy Board Inspector Boden traveled the state to enforce the prohibition on selling and possessing opium and morphine without a doctor’s prescription.  

Boden’s arrestees were overwhelmingly Chinese immigrants—a community that had long been targeted by the state and by California cities with various licensing and regulatory laws that brought fines and other criminal penalties. White doctors and pharmacists, presumably those who refused to be licensed according to the new law or who persisted in writing opiate prescriptions, were arrested in lower numbers.

Surprise mass raids, often involving posses of local police and deputized citizens, were common. In 1910, Boden led a raid that ended in the arrest of twenty-four Chinese immigrants in Bakersfield where he had been made a sheriff’s deputy. The following year Boden was in San Diego where a newspaper reported that under his direction “the police drag-net has captured seventeen Chinese and two prominent physicians” with more arrests of both “expected daily.”

Left: Clipping of Inspector Boden burning drug contraband from LA Times January 5, 1912.

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Teaching Points: Lesson Plan in Truth, Lies, and Anti-Drug Propaganda

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Stephen Siff, an Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Miami University of Ohio. He is the author of Acid Hype: American News Media and the Psychedelic Experience (University of Illinois Press, 2015).

I teach media literacy in introductory journalism and mass communication classes at Miami University of Ohio. My recent research explores the history of US anti-drug propaganda campaigns. I was happy when these interests collided over the summer in conjunction with the publication of my article, “‘Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?’: Richard Nixon’s National Mass Media Campaign Against Drug Abuse” in Journalism and Communication Monographs. As supplementary material for my article, I have also provided readers access to a digital lecture about 1970s anti-drug ads, a lesson plan, and two primary source/discussion exercises.

1970s Ad Council Anti-Drug Ad
1970s Ad Council anti-drug advertisement discussed in my powerpoint presentation.

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