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Starting Points

Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

Points Roundtable: “American Rehab” from Reveal

In July, Reveal, the broadcast channel of the Center for Investigative Reporting, released its eight-part series American Rehab, which centered on an investigation into the drug treatment program Cenikor and the group’s emphasis on “work therapy.” Examining how Cenikor was able to transform “tens of thousands of people into an unpaid, shadow workforce,” Reveal traced Cenikor’s development, struggles, and ultimate success as it placed “patients” into difficult, and often dangerous, jobs across Texas and Louisiana, keeping the money these workers earned and providing little else in terms of actual therapy or rehabilitation. Led by reporters Shoshana Walter, Laura Starecheski and Ike Sriskandarajah, the series is based off Walter’s previous reporting on the issue, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for national reporting.

American Rehab’s early episodes deal extensively with the history of a group that directly influenced the formation of Cenikor: Synanon. In doing so, the reporters reached out to several members of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society for advice and assistance on the history of addiction treatment. We’re really useful people to ask: roundtable participant Nancy Campbell’s book, co-authored with JP Olsen and Luke Walden, The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts outlined the history of the Lexington Narcotics Farm, where “work therapy” got its start, and panelist Claire Clark’s book The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States deals extensively with the long and complicated history of how “therapeutic communities” like Synanon influenced addiction treatment and rehabilitation. These books, as well as Campbell, Olsen, and Walden’s series, “Lessons from the Narcotic Farm” from 2012 (click the links to see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) and contributing editor Jordan Mylet’s initial reaction to the series here, provide further details for those interested in how American drug treatment came to the disturbing point Reveal reveals. 

In response, now that the entire series is available, we decided to post a roundtable of reactions to the podcast. Participants include Nancy Campbell, professor and department head of Science & Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Erin Hatton, associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo and the author of Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment; Claire Clark, associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Kentucky; Jordan Mylet, doctoral candidate in history at the University of California, San Diego; and me, Emily Dufton, managing editor of Points and author of a forthcoming book about the history of medication-assisted treatment in the US. Our responses focus on the long history of work therapy in addiction treatment, the concept of coerced labor, the promotional model at the heart of many treatment programs, further reflections on Synanon, and assessments of the series’s conclusion. 

We welcome your thoughts on American Rehab and thank the reporters for bringing ADHS historians into the conversation. We hope you’ll enjoy our thoughts on American Rehab, and that you’ll listen to this important and informative podcast. 

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“Nightmarish” “Horrifying”: Thomas Randall’s The Twelfth Step

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Matthew J. Raphael, a retired professor of English. Raphael is author of Bill W. and Mr. Wilson (University of Massachusetts Press, 2000), as well as other books and essays on the place of alcohol in American literature and culture. His previous work for Points includes reviewing the movie Bill W. and a review of Writing the Big Book.

At a convention in St. Louis in July 1955, Alcoholic Anonymous celebrated its twentieth anniversary. The event coincided with the release of the second edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill Wilson emphasized the need for A.A. to move beyond reliance on its quasi-paternal founders and grow up. This idea inspired the title of the book memorializing the occasion: Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (1957), the least familiar but most historically enlightening of A.A.’s canonical texts.

That same year, Thomas Randall, publishing under a pseudonym, released The Twelfth Step, which might be seen as a literary counterpart to Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. When I stumbled upon a copy of The Twelfth Step thirty years ago, I thought it was the best A.A.-related novel I had ever encountered. I’ve just reread it, and my opinion has not changed.

Curious readers might wish to check it out.

The cover of the 1963 paperback English edition

Honk! Spoiler Alert: The book is nearly unobtainable. There are roughly two dozen copies currently for sale online, varying in format and condition and ranging widely in price. The rare American edition from Charles Scribner’s Sons, goes from $25 to $250; the 1960 English edition, from $25 to $80; the 1963 paperback version of the English edition, from $20 to $45.

Until recently (see below), nothing was known about the writer of The Twelfth Step except what’s stated on the dust jacket and in a brief author’s note, which expresses appreciation to the New Hampshire State Alcoholic Clinic, “at which I received aid when I was desperately in need of it.” The author also gives thanks to A.A. groups in Woburn and Reading, Massachusetts; Concord, Tilton, and Laconia, New Hampshire; and Mexico City.

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Tomorrow: Webinar with David Courtwright — THE AGE OF ADDICTION: HOW BAD HABITS BECAME BIG BUSINESS

We live in an age of addiction, from compulsive gaming and shopping to binge eating and opioid abuse. Sugar can be as habit-forming as cocaine, researchers tell us, and social media apps are hooking our kids. In his new book, “The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business” (Harvard University’s Belknap Press, 2019), David Courtwright, presidential professor emeritus at the University of North Florida and a leading expert on addiction, chronicles the triumph of what he calls “limbic capitalism,” the growing network of competitive businesses targeting the brain pathways responsible for feeling, motivation and long-term memory. These businesses capitalize on the ancient quest to discover, cultivate and refine new and habituating pleasures. Courtwright holds out hope that limbic capitalism can be contained by organized opposition from across the political spectrum. Progressives, nationalists and traditionalists have made common cause against the purveyors of addiction before. They could do it again, but it will be necessary to understand the history and character of the global enterprises that create and cater to our bad habits. At this webinar, Courtwright will discuss his book with William Martin, the director of the Baker Institute’s Drug Policy Program.

This event is sponsored by the Baker Institute’s Drug Policy Program. Follow @BakerInstitute on Twitter, and join the conversation online with #BakerDrugPolicy.

AGENDA

3:00 p.m. — Presentation
4:00 p.m. — Q&A


REGISTRATION

This webinar is free, but registration is required. Please click here to register. If you are unable to attend, a recording will be available on this webpage a few days following the event.


FEATURED SPEAKER

David T. Courtwright, Ph.D., is presidential professor emeritus in the Department of History at the University of North Florida. In addition to “The Age of Addiction,” Courtwright is the author of four other books, including “Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America” and “Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World.” He was an inaugural recipient of a grant from the highly competitive NEH Public Scholar Program and is a regular media commentator on the history of addiction. He earned a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1974 and a Ph.D. in history from Rice University in 1979.


MODERATOR

William Martin, Ph.D.
Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy; Director, Drug Policy Program, Baker Institute 

Cannabis in the 1950s British Tabloids

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writer Alex Brown. Brown researches and writes for the drug history podcast Hooked on History. He has a Master’s in Contemporary History from the University of Edinburgh.

It will likely surprise none of this blog’s readers that British tabloids have proved poor custodians of “drug” information. Evidence of their inflexible anti-drug stance was presented during the Leveson Inquiry in 2011. Ex-Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt told the inquiry: “If a scientist announces their research has found ecstasy to be safer than alcohol, I know my job as a tabloid reporter is to portray this man as a quack.”[1] Instead of offering accurate information, “drug” articles tend to act as conduits through which moral judgments and social anxieties can be expressed.

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The Points Interview: Ronny Spaans

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Ronny Spaans, Associate Professor in Nordic Literature at Nord University in Nordland, Norway. He also teaches Dutch at the University of Oslo. Here he discusses his new book, Dangerous Drugs: The Self-Presentation of the Merchant-Poet Joannes Six van Chandelier (1620-1695) (Amsterdam University Press, 2020).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The bartender may already know that aquavit, gin and other spirits flavoured with spices and herbs, were seen as medicines in the Renaissance. But what he probably does not know, and probably will find interesting, is that there was a debate already in the 17th century about whether these “medicines” were dangerous to health. In addition, it probably would come as a surprise that in this debate, terms were used that we today attribute to drug abuse: addiction, hallucinations and moral dangers. And what makes it extra exciting, is that this debate was related to exotic substances. The debate about drugs in the 17th century has much in common with discussions we associate with the history of the spice trade, that is, spices as moral temptations. Exotic drugs could create hot desires in the body, fill you with madness, or make you think you were a king or deity, or they could give you divine insight into forbidden knowledge.

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A Missed Opportunity: What Karen Bass Could Have Accomplished as VP for Communities of Color

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Christiana Verdelus. Verdelus is a Haitian-American woman, feminist, and first-generation college student studying Health Education and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida. This work was inspired by her research on women of color and substance abuse treatment approaches and was completed through the Preston Haskell Faculty and Student Award program. 

My first presidential election is right around the corner and let me tell you—I am not looking forward to it. Don’t get me wrong: making Biden and Harris the next leaders of this nation is definitely a small step (or maybe a tiptoe) in the right direction. But I’m angry that it’s only my first election and I’m already tired of settling. 
 
Within our polarized society, Republicans administrations are known to exacerbate issues that disproportionately affect people of color. But Democrats have neglected important issues. Just getting Trump out of office isn’t going to single-handedly repair black and brown communities. I am happy that history is being made with a black woman nominee for Vice President. But “representation” won’t rebuild these communities either. Every four years we spend holding onto hope that the next election will bring real change is another four years of governmental abuse and abandonment of communities of color. As a nation we cannot afford it.  And as a black woman and a feminist, I won’t stand for it.

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In Memory of Glenn C.

Editor’s Note: The message below comes from the Symposium on AA History, which will be hosting its next meeting in January 2021. Click the link for more info about the group.

On July 27, 2020 one of our fellowship’s finest historians, Glenn C. passed away in his sleep. Glenn was integral in the formation and success of the Symposium on A.A. History. He presented at three out of the six conferences and the Symposium will not be the same without his steadfast presence.

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The pandemic is exacerbating other, co-occurring epidemic(s)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writers Mae Tidd and Deepika Rao, graduate students at UW-Madison in the Health Services Research in Pharmacy Program. 

Mae’s research interests focus on LGBTQ+ health and health communication in pharmacy spaces and wider medical spheres. She studies the promotion of health information (between physician and patient, health education, and public health campaigns), health activism, and community/stakeholder engagement. More specifically, she is working to understand HIV-prevention’s pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) uptake, or the lack thereof, in the state of Wisconsin by identifying barriers that are obstructing health services along the cascade of the PrEP Continuum of Care. 

Deepika is particularly interested in studying the use of dissemination and implementation sciences in pharmacy, especially in the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. Currently, her primary research involves using mixed methods approaches to explore and develop patient-centered interventions for opioid misuse that can be implemented in the pharmacy settings. 

The current pandemic continues to be the front of discussion, as it should be. Yet, we need not to forget the other epidemic(s) that continue to occur: opioid overdoses, HIV, and the effects of systemic racism chief among them. This is especially true because people among the subgroups affected by these epidemics are at increased risk for the coronavirus and face significantly more problems accessing health care.

As we head into the fifth month of seized day-to-day life, the repercussions of COVID-19 are more than apparent – numerous people are (still) unemployed, mentally drained, isolated, and even homeless. The high number of COVID deaths are compounded by the fact that there are also numerous long-term COVID patients who are still suffering from incapacitating symptoms. With no end in sight, society is flooded with uncertainty.

These repercussions are concerning as they impact the mass majority. Yet at a heightened concern is the pandemic has exacerbated issues for the 20 million+ people in the US battling a substance use disorder.

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The Points Interview: Danielle Giffort

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Danielle M. Giffort, assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Liberal Arts at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. She’s the author of the new book Acid Revival: The Psychedelic Renaissance and the Quest for Medical Legitimacy (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand. 

Acid Revival is about how a group of mental health professionals is trying to bring psychedelic-assisted therapy back into mainstream medicine and how they struggle with the past history of psychedelic drugs in medicine as they do this. My book looks at how these researchers grapple with this past by telling stories about what went wrong during the “first wave” of psychedelic therapy—a period stretching from the late 1940s to mid-1970s. And their stories all point the blame at one person: Timothy Leary, the infamous psychedelic researcher-cum-countercultural guru. 

For today’s researchers studying psychedelic therapy, Leary symbolizes what I call an “impure scientist”—a bad expert who does not respect and intentionally defies the boundaries of science. And in defying these boundaries, his presence supposedly had a polluting effect on the legitimacy of psychedelic therapy. So, researchers would tell me how Leary “contaminated” and “poisoned” psychedelic science. To contain that threat and offer an antidote to that poison, they perform as the Anti-Leary—a phrase I heard from several researchers. Another term bounced around was that they are “sober scientists.” So, essentially, the book tells a story about how, in the minds of contemporary psychedelic researchers, the misbehavior of an individual had contaminating effects on their whole scientific field—it boils down to a “one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel” story. 

But these boundaries between impure and sober scientists are porous. That’s the thing about boundaries—they aren’t given; they are constructed. The ways in which we draw lines in the sand between this or that is the result of struggle and those lines are subject to change across time and place. And the way that we see this happening in psychedelic science is this: these researchers push away from the pollution of the impure scientist by enacting the sober scientist persona, but at the same time, they still draw on the practices of the impure scientist. For example, among other things, they criticize Leary for failing to follow conventional scientific methods in his psychedelic research, so they actively work to follow the kind of hypothesis-testing methods that grant scientific credibility. But at the same time, they actively incorporate Leary’s insights about the psychedelic experience into their therapeutic models. Leary is so central to their stories and to the revival because he is the site of the continuities and divergences between the first and current waves of research. And from this discussion, I hope readers learn more about not just the history of psychedelic science but about how the ways in which people construct reality has real effects on their actions.  

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Taming Cannabis in France

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. His new book, Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth Century France, will be released by McGill-Queen’s University Press next month.

The push to legalize cannabis in France, where the drug is widely consumed but prohibited, is gaining momentum.

The grassroots pro-grass activism of NORML France has, in the past decade, been bolstered by growing popular demand and public calls for cannabis legalization by French entrepreneursfarmersphysicians, economists, politicians, and even police unions. In June 2019, seventy public figures signed and published an open letter in the popular news magazine L’Obs decrying the nation’s “costly,” “ineffective” and “repressive” prohibitionist policies and calling for the “supervised legalization” in France in the name of public health and violence prevention. 

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