The Way Back Machine—Cora Lee Wetherington, NIDA Advocate for Research about Drugs and Women

Editor’s Note: This is the third 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.”

First, a little background: in response to the heroin panic then gripping the nation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) was founded by executive order in 1973 within the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA) housed in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services). In the words of its founding Director, Robert L. DuPont (2009), NIDA represented “the nation’s new commitment to demand reduction as a central element of drug abuse policy, and as the center of public health activity on drug abuse.” For about ten years, NIDA functioned as what DuPont called a “three-legged stool”: it oversaw research (human and animal studies of the “basic biology of addiction” as well as drug epidemiology and drug effects); training (of clinical personnel); and service (in the areas of drug abuse prevention and treatment). But in the 1980s, things got complicated.

Beginning in 1982, the Reagan administration’s shift from categorical to block grants gave states new discretion in spending on alcohol, drug, and mental health issues. Subsequent legislation throughout the ‘80s—influenced in part by a new panic over cocaine—pushed for more prevention and treatment services for “special populations,” including youth, pregnant women, the chronically mentally ill and un-housed, minorities, and people with HIV.

The 1992 ADAMHA Reorganization Act broke NIDA’s three-legged stool approach to drug problems. Along with its coequals, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Mental Health, NIDA’s research leg moved into the National Institute of Health. The legs devoted to training and services were parceled out to two new Centers, one for Substance Abuse Prevention and one for Substance Abuse Treatment. These entities were housed in ADAMHA’s replacement, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. If you’ve followed me this far, you can probably tell: the 1980s and 1990s were a helluva time.

As Laura Schmidt and Constance Weisner (2002) have pointed out, block grant funding threatened the survival of women’s treatment programs founded in the late 1970s. States had discretion in how they spent block grants—so, if a state didn’t care about women substance users, well, too bad. In response, activists and treatment providers worked to frame women—especially pregnant women—as a “special population” deserving of their own stream of research funding.

One of the staunchest advocates for research on women was Cora Lee Wetherington, who came to NIDA as a program officer in 1987 and served as Women and Gender/Sex Differences Research Coordinator from 1995 until her retirement in 2019. As a friendly co-conspirator on countless research proposals and a tireless promoter of the (crazy!) notion that research protocols needed to enroll female subjects if they hoped to produce real-world outcomes, Wetherington helped shape a generation (maybe two!) of federally-funded feminist research. She sat down with Points Managing Editor Emerita Trysh Travis to reflect on what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Cora Lee Wetherington Moderating a Panel
Cora Lee Wetherington (left) moderating a panel at the 2018 “Opioid and Nicotine Use, Dependence, and Recovery: Influences of Sex and Gender” conference hosted by the Food and Drug Administration. Image Courtesy of FDAWomen on Twitter.

Read more

Job of Interest to ADHS and AIHP Members! UF Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research is Hiring

Editor’s Note: A job opportunity message today from Points co-founder Trysh Travis.

University of Florida Logo

The Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research at the University of Florida is hiring a full-time permanent lecturer to teach Health Disparities in Society, starting August 2021. Join Points co-founders Trysh Travis and Joe Spillane in a wacky workplace comedy focused on raising the critical thinking skills of “Florida Man,” broadly defined.

Seriously, this is a terrific position for someone whose goal is to work in both the community and the classroom. Health Disparities in Society is the largest minor in UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and engages students across the entire university. The Women’s Studies program is in the process of creating a Gender, Sex, and Health track within its thriving major, and the person in this position will participate in shaping that program as well. For full details and application, go to https://facultyjobs.hr.ufl.edu/posting/85040

The position closes on March 29th, so time is of the essence!

Read more

Hidden Figures of Drug History: Kitty McNeil, “The Babbling Bodhisattva”

Editor’s Note: Today we add another post to our ongoing Hidden Figures of Drug History series, which highlights the historic roles women have played in drug and alcohol culture in the United States. Note that next week Points will be taking off on Tuesday to celebrate Christmas, but we’ll be back on Thursday and throughout the rest of the year with more great content. Happy holidays to you and yours from your friends at Points!

Screenshot 2018-12-19 10.15.55In his introduction to the collected San Francisco Oracle archives, Oracle editor Allen Cohen described Kitty McNeil, better known as the paper’s “Babbling Bodhisattva,” as “a suburban housewife, theosophist of the Alice Bailey variety, a psychic, and a lover of LSD and hippies.”

McNeil had first introduced herself to Cohen when she wrote the paper a lengthy reply to a question Oracle columnist Carl Helbing, the “Gossiping Guru,” had reprinted in an earlier edition. Helbing, an artist and astrologer who lived in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood (along with most of the Oracle‘s staff), asked readers, “Who then can tell us further of Him who was born on February 5, 1962, when 7 planets were in Aquarius?”

McNeil’s response, according to Cohen, was “a joint meditation on the inner planes with all the world’s adepts providing the spiritual energy and will needed to bring about the birth of the next avatar.”

Pretty heavy stuff for a “suburban housewife,” even if she was a psychic and a lover of LSD. “Of course,” Cohen wrote, “we made her a columnist.”

Read more

Gender and Critical Drug Studies: The Gendered Origins of Privatized Prison Drug Treatment

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Jill McCorkel, associate professor of sociology ad criminology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. In it, she explores the origins of how drug treatment and rehabilitation programs entered private prisons for women. Her full article appears in a special co-produced edition of SHAD and CDP, Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies. Enjoy!

Screenshot 2018-09-18 at 8.31.51 AM
Dr. Jill McCorkel

I was recently in a taxi on my way to a speaking engagement in Dublin, Ireland. When the driver asked me what I’d be discussing, I told him I research prison privatization. “Ahh, yes,” he said, “the corporations run the American prisons and that’s why you have such a problem over there. They want everyone in prison. More prisoners, more profit!”

Although legal scholars would likely challenge his claim on the grounds that comparatively few prisoners in the U.S. are held in private prisons, his comments are not entirely off base. Over the last 30 years, private companies have become increasingly influential players in the American prison system. The source of their ascendancy is not private prisons. Rather, it is in the provision of a vast array of services ranging from cafeteria food to phone cards, medical care to behavioral health programming. Private companies contract with local, state, and federal authorities to provide these services in publicly managed prisons, jails, and community-based correctional facilities. The contracts are a lucrative source of profit and require little in the way of oversight. The duration and scope of privatized correctional services vary, but among the most profitable are contracts that involve the provision of drug treatment programming to prisoners, parolees, and pretrial detentioners. Drug treatment and related rehabilitative services are a multi-billion dollar (USD) a year industry. In my article for the special issue of Contemporary Drug Problems, I explore the origins of privatized, prison-based drug treatment. I argue that during the War on Drugs, women’s prisons were utilized as testing grounds for private companies interested in getting into the expanding business of drug rehab.

Read more

Gender and Critical Drug Studies: Reproducing Female Vulnerability in Gendered Drug Discourse

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Helen Keane, associate professor and head of the School of Sociology at Australian National University in Canberra. In it, she explores more about her article on perceptions of female vulnerability, especially in terms of drug use, which appeared in a special co-produced edition of SHAD and CDP, Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies. Enjoy!

Screenshot 2018-09-13 08.20.02
Helen Keane

Female vulnerability is a persistent theme of medical, public health, and popular discourses on drug use. Women have been understood as biologically, socially, and morally vulnerable to the harms of substance use, and the blurred boundaries of these categories have acted to exacerbate the naturalization of women as at risk from drugs. Men have higher rates of drug use than women, but they are rarely interpreted as suffering from an inherent vulnerability to harm. Instead their use is associated with risk-taking.

Discourses of vulnerability and norms of gendered responsibility for familial and social wellbeing combine to produce women’s drug use as more deviant and disordered than men’s use. In the figure of the pregnant or maternal drug user, the vulnerability of women is converted into a threatening capacity to produce harm. Female biology is contrasted with an unmarked male norm and viewed as more unstable and more prone to damage (in a set of tropes focused on reproduction and reminiscent of Victorian medicine). The vision of unruly drug-using women and the social disorder they produce is one of the “governing mentalities” of drug policy, to use Nancy Campbell’s term [1].

Read more

Gender and Critical Drug Studies: A Woman Formed the First Cartel?

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Elaine Carey, professor of history and Dean of the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences at Purdue University Northwest. In it, she explores more about her article on Delia Patricia Buendía Gutierrez, a contemporary female leader of a Mexican drug trafficking organization, which appeared in a special co-produced edition of SHAD and CDP, Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies. Enjoy!

Screenshot 2018-09-10 at 12.57.31 PM
Elaine Carey

To analyze contemporary female leaders of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, I focused on Delia Patricia Buendía Gutierrez, also known as “Ma Baker,” because she represents a historical continuity of the women in the drug trade.  More significantly, however, her organization represents how the history of drugs responds to various contingent and changing factors and events.

Buendía formed a powerful familial-based drug trafficking organization (DTO) that grew the internal cocaine trade in Mexico. She and her daughters Marcela Gabriela, Nadia Isabel, and Norma Patricia, along with extended family and sons-in-laws, built a “narcomenudeo” network in the working class suburb of Ciudad Neza.  There, the Buendía became instrumental to other DTOs by responding to changing demand patterns in the US that shifted from cocaine to heroin. This shift was, in part, due to the over prescription of opioids by medical doctors which triggered a wide spread heroin epidemic.

Read more

SHAD Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies

Editor’s Note: The newest issue of the Alcohol and Drug History Society’s journal, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, or SHAD, is a special edition, joined with the journal Contemporary Drug Problems. It focuses specifically on gender and critical drug studies. Two of SHAD’s newest co-editors, Nancy Campbell and David Herzberg, provide an introduction to the issue here, and over the next few weeks we’re going to feature some of the issue’s authors giving insights into their work. Enjoy! 

trafficThe 2000 film “Traffic” is harshly critical of American drug policy as ineffective, corrupt, and cruel.  Among the many stories it traces is the ascent of DEA chief Robert Wakefield (played by Michael Douglas) to the position of Drug Czar. Just as Wakefield reaches the apex of his career as an anti-drug warrior, his daughter Caroline descends from recreational drug use into “hard core” heroin addiction.  

Caroline, blonde and so white as to be almost luminescent, begins with casual drug use with other white friends in upscale settings.  As her use becomes more serious, the movie follows her to meaner streets and more diverse companions. When she finally fully succumbs to addiction, she has become a sex worker in an African American neighborhood in the employ of a young, heavily muscled, dark-skinned dealer.

We all immediately recognize these embarrassing racial stereotypes—that’s why they so efficiently signal Caroline’s decline.  And thanks to a wealth of vibrant scholarship that has revealed the racial dynamics of American drug policies, we are likely to be enraged by the calculated conflation of addiction, degradation, and blackness in a supposedly rebellious film.  Shouldn’t Steven Soderbergh (the director) know better? But racialized tropes are so deeply built into drug-war culture that their absence would be surprising even in a critical vehicle like “Traffic.”

Read more

Hidden Figures of Drug History: Joan Ganz Cooney

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in our new Hidden Figures of Drug History series, with more to come in the future. Next week Points will feature more exciting news about drug and alcohol history in the media, as well as a great recap of LSD use in New York City in the 1960s. Enjoy this post and come back next week for more!

Image result for marihuana a signal of misunderstandingThere are few subjects I like writing about more than the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse’s 1972 report, “Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding.” Also known as the Shafer Commission, the group’s report enlivened my book Grass Roots, and I’ve continued to mine it for material on how we can understand the Trump administration’s response to the opioid overdose epidemic today.

But there’s something of particular interest for those who want to understand the role gender has long played in American drug history within this report as well.  And that’s a name that appears within the list of the commission’s thirteen members, nine of whom were appointed by President Richard Nixon, and four of whom were senators and members of Congress. 

And that name is Mrs. Joan Ganz Cooney.

Read more