The violent impact of the American War on Drugs has resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Colombians and the displacement of millions more that have either inundated the urban centers of the country or simply left the Colombia. Nevertheless, the Western propaganda machine decided, close to fifty years ago, to ignore the humanitarian atrocity and the systemic violation of human rights of Colombians carried out by American foreign policy, opting instead to focus on the magical realism-like stories of Colombian capos and the Hollywood-like stories of “good guys vs. bad guys.” Now, watching the coverage of the conflict in Ukraine, it is irritating to see how Western media is capable and powerful enough to socially construct one particular narrative for Ukraine and another one for Colombia, denying the agency to the victims of the atrocities generated by Western, and more particularly, US drug policy.
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.
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.
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.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by guest blogger Katrina Pineda, a junior undergraduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) pursuing a degree in Science, Technology, and Society. She is the co-president of the Philippine American League, RPI’s cultural Filipino club. This post was submitted at the end of Filipino American History Month (October) and in time for Araw ng mga Patay—Day of the Dead in the Philippines—in remembrance of those who have died in President Duterte’s war on drugs.
Pusher ako. Wag tularan.
“I am a [drug] pusher. Don’t do what I did.”
The crudely drawn message on a cardboard sign beside a man just killed in the street is posed as a warning to the living. The sign appeared next to the body of Michael Siaron, a 30-year-old pedicab driver killed by a vigilante group in 2016. A famous photo of his bereaved partner cradling his body echoes “The Pieta,” also known as “The Lamentation of Christ.”
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.
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.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.
When I went to college (the first time), I left my home in Central New York to attend a Franciscan College near Albany, the state capital. With a scholarship in hand—and a career in the medical field on my horizon—I was confident in my ability to succeed in the classroom. Being away from home for the first time, however, forced me to confront a much bigger fear: negotiating a safe, healthy, and productive college social life. My biggest worries were alcohol and drugs.
Fearful of parental reprisals, school sanctions, and, of course, a life of crime and addiction—all lessons that had been reiterated ad nauseum during the “Just Say No!” era, I had sworn off all substances during high school. But, facing college and the culture of college drinking made me rethink that approach. I decided that I was going to have to try alcohol at some point, and I didn’t want it to be my first week on campus. So, a week before my arrival, I had my first alcohol experience with a friend at a different college.
I really enjoyed myself.
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.
Growing up in Colombia during the 1970s and early 1980s was an eye-opening experience. As a teenager living through the daily tensions of a country in constant social turmoil and violence, the thought of worrying or even thinking about marijuana, heroin, or cocaine, and their impact on the world was irrelevant. Illicit drugs and awareness campaigns were not part of the country’s social, health, or educational policies. The internal use of drugs, from my perspective at the time, was almost nonexistent. This was a problem of the marginalized and the homeless—at least that is what my Grandmother used to say. The real problems were poverty, political violence, and corruption. I quickly learned in the mid-1980s, though, when I started to travel to the United States in order to live with my Dad in Brownsville, Texas, that Colombia’s internal social, political, and economic problems (not to mention environmental problems, which I did not think about back then) were mostly repercussions of the US War on Drugs.
I vividly remember a trip to the United States when I was just 14-years old. Soon after landing at the Miami airport, I was asked by the immigration officer to step aside and follow the other officers who, out of nowhere, appeared next to me to accompany me to another section of the baggage claim area where they opened my suitcase, searched me, and questioned me about bringing in drugs into the country. The stigma of having a US passport that says that I was born in Colombia still haunts me today—and perhaps will for the rest of my life. Since then, I have been stripped and deep-searched by US customs and Colombian customs officers on so many occasions that I have built some sort of travel paranoia.
The recurring experiences of being targeted and psychologically abused while traveling inspired me to constantly reflect on the local and global impacts of illicit drugs and, more particularly, on the social, cultural, economic, and political constructs that have resulted from the American War on Drugs. My overarching conclusion when it comes to illicit drugs is that American and other Western societies are hypocritical when facing the impacts of their own addictions and relationships to drugs. With the blessing of their governments, Western societies have lived, continue to live, and will live under a social construct that advances the idea that the problem with drugs is foreign and external. When in reality, the problem is deeply rooted in Western culture itself.