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

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.

Please tell readers a little but about yourself:

My name is Helena Barop, and in 2020 I received my PhD in history from the University of Freiburg. I am living in Freiburg with my husband and two little kids and working as a freelance publicist. Just a few weeks ago I published my dissertation as a book, titled Mohnblumenkriege. Die globale Drogenpolitik der USA 1950-1979—which roughly translates to Poppy Wars: US Global Drug Policies, 1950–1979. My book is based on research conducted in Washington, DC, New York City, and at the United Nations Archives in Vienna. As a student of American drug policy, I have been watching the field from the side lines with some intensity. Now that my book is out, I would like to introduce it to the drug history community—even though it’s in German.

Barop Title Card

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The War on Drugs: From Book to Website

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.

This pedagogically-oriented site—with resources for teachers, students, and readers—is a spin-off of the War on Drugs book that I worked on with an all-star cast of drug historians. The original plan, though, did not include a website. At the beginning, all I knew was that I wanted to have a bunch of drug historians come to the University of Kansas in April 2020 for a weekend conversation to see if we could collaborate and produce a book about the history of the war on drugs.

War on Drugs Project

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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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SHAD Interview: “Detectives, Detectors, and Drug Sniffers: Institutionalizing the Drug Dog Before and After Counterinsurgency” with Justin Hubbard

Editor’s Note: This is the first Points interview with authors from the latest issue of ADHS’s journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (vol. 35, no. 1; Spring 2021), published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Justin Hubbard, who holds a PhD in the history of medicine from Vanderbilt University. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and vicious pug. You can see his article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article or any other article from SHAD’s history. 

Article Abstract

The popularity of drug-sniffing dogs since the 1970s rests on the contributions of a dying technological movement—counterinsurgency science. A comparison of two drug-sniffing dog programs—the Federal Bureau of Narcotics’s detective dog of the 1940s and 1950s, and the Department of Defense’s detector dog of the 1960s and 1970s—documents how federal agents failed to institutionalize drug-sniffing dogs, while Department of Defense researchers succeeded. The disparate outcomes of the two programs illustrate, first, the contingent institutional factors involved in adopting dogs for drug control, and second, the fragile institutional relationships supporting counterinsurgency science and new drug-control strategies after the Vietnam War.

Tell readers a little about yourself

I’m an independent scholar, trained as a medical historian, living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The large chunk of my research has examined the social conditions of health and illness, the political economy of medical technologies, and health-maintenance and knowledge production as problems of governance. I’m currently transitioning from academic history to a career in strategic labor research. In the meantime, I volunteer at Philadelphia’s famous medical history museum, The Mütter, where I’ve created a learning module for some 600 human brain slices cast in plastic.

SHAD Interview Hubbard

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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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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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Watch 2021 “Kreminar” Videos—History of Opiates & Opioids

2021 Kreminar Social Card

In May and June of 2021, the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy and the Alcohol and Drugs History Society hosted and helped organize the second annual Edward Kremers Seminar in the History of Pharmacy & Drugs. The Summer 2021 “Kreminar” explored the theme of Opiates & Opioids and featured six virtual seminars, presentations, and discussions by scholars and practitioners researching and writing about the history and the contemporary status of opiates, opioids, and addiction. The six presentations were:

  • Dr. Benjamin Breen: “Three Ways of Looking at Opium: Flower, Latex, Pharmaceutical.”
  • Dr. Diana S. Kim: “Empires of Vice: The Rise of Opium Prohibition Across Southeast Asia.”
  • Dr. Daniel Skinner in conversation with Kerri Mongenel: “The Humanity of Addiction: What We Can Learn from Families, Educators, and Practitioners”
  • Dr. Nancy Campbell and Dr. David Herzberg: “Unexpected Histories of Opioids and Overdose.”
  • Dr. James Bradford: “Poppy Politics: Drugs in Afghanistan, Past and Present.”
  • Maia Szalavitz: “Undoing Drugs: Harm Reduction, Opioids and the Future of Addiction.”

Each 2021 Kreminar event drew between 50 and 70 attendees for a total attendance of 327 people across the six webinars. The hosts and sponsors of the Summer 2021 Kreminar were: the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society, the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, and the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences Cooperative for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Videos of each presentation are embedded below or available to watch on AIHP’s YouTube channel.

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