“What if the CIA did Woke?”: Reviewing Netflix’s “The Business of Drugs”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. He reviews the new Netflix series “The Business of Drugs.”

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Netflix’s new series The Business of Drugs investigates six psychoactive substances—cocaine, synthetics, heroin, cannabis, methamphetamine, and opioids—tracing them to global hot spots—from the remote villages of Colombia, to the ailing slums on Kenya’s periphery, to Myanmar’s contested regions, where ethnic strife is fueled by the factory-level output of methamphetamine (or “yaba”). Other installments are less global, and narrowly tailored for American consumers, catering to hot-button domestic issues: the causes and consequences of the opioid epidemic, MDMA’s potential as a breakthrough therapeutic, and the overregulation of California’s legal cannabis markets. 

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Review: “How to Fix a Drug Scandal”

Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. He reviews the Netflix series How to Fix a Drug Scandal, a mini-series released earlier this year. We also wanted to point out an article from The Conversation, a site that, like Points, offers academic insights on contemporary and historical events. Did you know that the Mother’s Day flowers you might have bought last Sunday are potentially tied to the US war on drugs? You can read more about that here

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How to Fix a Drug Scandal is a four-part docuseries directed by Erin Lee Carr streaming on Netflix. The scandal centers on two chemists: Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak who were employed by the state of Massachusetts to perform chemical analysis on drugs in criminal cases, verifying their authenticity. The two pursued their crimes quite differently. Dookhan was good at falsifying reports. She did it through so-called “dry labbing” or visual testing: say police sent an evidence bag filled with a white powder to her office. Maybe the substance was table salt or maybe it was cocaine. If it was table salt rather than cocaine and you were the defendant in the case, you definitely didn’t want the evidence to be analyzed by Dookhan because the drug certificate submitted was going to say cocaine. Was there a specific reason Dookhan did this? Not really. We know she didn’t care about accuracy or the real-world effect of her actions, which had devastating effects on the lives of individuals and their families. 

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Points Bookshelf: “US of AA” by Joe Miller

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Jeremy Milloy, the W. P. Bell Postdoctoral Fellow at Mount Allison University. In it, he adds to our Points Bookshelf series, where we examine and review recent books about alcohol and drug history. More than a traditional review, however, Milloy also interviews Miller. Enjoy! 

Screenshot 2019-10-22 at 6.26.31 AMAlcoholics Anonymous is one of the most successful social movements in history. It has exercised more influence over treatment of substance use disorder than probably any other non-state organization in history. AA programming is the foundation of upscale private rehabs and prison programs alike. Today almost two million people are believed to be AA members, with many more in the myriad of other 12-step fellowships created in its image. But for the great majority of people who go to AA, it doesn’t work. 

Why then, did AA become the first, and often, the last treatment option? Why does it remain so today? These are some of the questions journalist and English professor Joe Miller tackles in his timely and trenchant new history US Of AA: How The Twelve Steps Hijacked The Science of Alcoholism. In it, Miller deftly combines a personal narrative about his struggles with alcohol and journey through AA to stable program of moderation with the larger history of AA itself. 

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Points Bookshelf: “Ten Drugs” by Thomas Hager

Editor’s Note:  Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. As part of our Points Bookshelf series, he reviews Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine (Abrams Press, 2019), and breaks his findings down into a few major takeaways.

 

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Drug policy historians, academics and the press more generally often present drug use as though it were a marginal activity. We can fault a lot of this confusion on the arbitrary distinctions that are commonly made, starting with categories like legal and illegal use, which are then further subdivided and sliced into even more granular classifications.

Thomas Hager’s Ten Drugs whose focus is on prescription “medications,” opens the book by highlighting drugs’ ubiquity in American life: “More than half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug on a regular basis, and most of those who fall into that group take more than one (somewhere between four and twelve prescriptions per person per year, depending on which study you look at). One expert estimates that Americans takes an average of ten pills per person per day. Add in nonprescription drugs—over-the-counter vitamins, cold and flu remedies, aspirin, and other supplements—and run the numbers: Let’s say a low-ball estimate of two pills per day per American over an average of seventy-eight plus years of life. The total outcome comes to somewhere more than 50,000 pills, on average, in the average American’s lifetime. And there’s a good chance it’s a lot more. Americans constitute less than 5 percent of the world’s population but spend more than 50 percent of the money that flows into the world’s drug companies. And that’s not even counting illegal drugs.”

Once you throw in recreational and illegal drugs, this leaves no segment of society untouched. These figures could be interpreted as troubling, as our society grows ever reliant on psychological crutches to get through the day. Of course, while that’s partially true, there are also serious issues that have been left unresolved, to say nothing of the precarious state millions wake up to. Setting that aside, the larger point is our discourse is divorced from this underlying reality.  

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Review: “Confessions of a Cocaine Cowboy”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Elaine Carey, professor of history and Dean of the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences at Purdue University Northwest, and a regular contributor to Points. Today she reviews a recent theatrical production that should be of interest to drug scholars.  For this dope scholar, a recent trip to Miami …

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