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 Interview: “Serrano Communities and Subaltern Negotiation Strategies: The Local Politics of Opium Production in Mexico, 1940–2020,” with Nathaniel Morris

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Nathaniel Morris, whose article you can see here. Dr. Morris is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow attached to the History department at the University College London. 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.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 7.34.59 PMI’m a historian, and sometimes I pretend to be an anthropologist, I suppose. I’m from London, England – or Great Britain, or whatever else this strange old island is calling itself at the moment. I’ve been interested in Latin American history, politics, cultures and all the rest of it since I was an undergraduate – which I now realise is way longer ago than I would like! – and I’ve always been drawn to Mexico in particular. I’m halfway through a 3-year postdoc at University College London, researching the history of indigenous militia groups in Mexico and trying to work out the links between armed community guard units that emerged during the Revolution in the 1920s and 30s, and the contemporary ‘autodefensa’ militias that are playing a key role in the ‘Drug War’ ongoing in many parts of the country. This research has followed on from an earlier project on indigenous relations with the Revolutionary state in a particularly rugged, diverse and beautiful bit of western Mexico, which – completely shameless plug alert – is coming out as a book with Arizona University Press this autumn. It’s called ‘Soldiers, Saints and Shamans: Indigenous Communities and the Revolutionary State in Mexico’s Gran Nayar,’ and you can pre-order a copy here.

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SHAD Interview: “A Small Distinction with a Big Difference: Prohibiting “Drugs” but Not Alcohol, from the Conquest to Constitutional Law,” with José Domingo Schievenini

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. José Domingo Schievenini, whose article you can see here. Schievenini (PhD, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2018) is an assistant professor of history at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro (UAQ). His research focuses on drug policy in Mexico and the history of drugs in Latin America. 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. 

Tell readers a little bit about yourself and what got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

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Dr. José Domingo Schievenini

I am a Mexican historian. When I was an undergrad, a decade ago, my thesis attempted to explain why the use of medical marijuana was treated as a crime in Mexico. At that time, four states in the U.S. had already legalized the medical use of cannabis, and the scientific evidence in support of such use was overwhelming. Among other things, I chose this subject because it seemed irrational to me that the use of cannabis for medical purposes was a crime in Mexico. Undoubtedly, it was an injustice. There were even arguments to affirm that this prohibition was a crime, but not on the part of those who consumed marijuana, but rather an unconstitutional act on the part of the Mexican state. 

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SHAD Interview: “Mexico, Shanghai, and Drug History’s Global Turn,” with Isaac Campos

Editor’s Note: Starting today, we’re going to run a series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. This is a particularly exciting issue, which focuses on Mexico’s rich historical role in the field. It was led by Isaac Campos, the subject of today’s interview. 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. 

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

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Isaac Campos

I’m an Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati. I’m trained in Mexican history and my main area of interest is the history of illicit drugs. I’ve published one book (Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs) and a number of articles on the subject.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

Because the War on Drugs has been such a disastrous and mostly nonsensical approach to the problem of drug abuse, I’ve always been fascinated by how these policies came into being and how much support they were able to garner and maintain over many decades. And within that I’ve always been fascinated by the ideas surrounding drugs and how those ideas justify bad policy decisions.

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender won’t find boring.

Screenshot 2020-05-25 11.38.08I’m the warm up act at the start of the show. I’m just setting the table in this issue for the great original research that follows by an exciting group of scholars who are mostly just starting their careers. I also provide a little overview of the long stretch of Mexican drug history to provide a little background and context for readers who may not be familiar with that history.  

Is this part of a larger project? What else are you working on?

Well it’s part of a larger project in that I’m always working on Mexican drug history. I’ve got a bunch of other stuff in the works right now. There are two digital humanities projects tracing the development of the discourse surrounding cannabis in U.S. newspapers during the 1910s and I’ve been working on another larger project about drugs in Mexico and the U.S. between 1910 and 1940.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

I think the field of Mexican drug history is just getting closer to the present. There are some really talented people now working on the second half of the twentieth century. Professional historians are really only beginning to really analyze this history after the Second World War. So that is I think where some of the most exciting work will be emerging, as evidenced by some of the work we’re putting forward here. 

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra. He’s a legend in Mexico. A psychiatrist from the 1920s-50s. A real character who famously designed a morphine monopoly in Mexico that got off the ground briefly in 1940. I’ve written about him in a couple of places. One of those essays is published (“A diplomatic failure: the Mexican role in the demise of the 1940 Reglamento Federal de Toxicomanías”) and the other is forthcoming. I’d have a lot of questions for him for sure!

The Points Interview: Nancy Campbell

Editor’s Note: Today we’re thrilled to feature SHAD co-editor Nancy Campbell discussing her new book, OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose (The MIT Press, 2020). Campbell is Professor and Department Head of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer in Troy, New York. Her other books are: Gendering Addiction: The Politics of Drug Treatment in a Neurochemical World (co-authored with Elizabeth Ettorre; Palgrave, 2011); Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research (University of Michigan Press, 2007); The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts (co-authored with JP Olsen and Luke Walden; Abrams, 2008); and Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy, and Social Justice (Routledge, 2000). Although she has a PhD in the History of Consciousness from the University of California at Santa Cruz, she has been granted a green card as a historian.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Screenshot 2020-05-18 21.01.53Some of my favorite bartenders include grad students and PhD alums. They’ve had rough days “pivoting” to incorporate COVID-19 into their dissertations. I’d introduce my book as dense, dark, and handsome, like the cover. OD is spelled out in old-school Franklin Gothic Condensed type—headline type. But scribed through the letters is a 45-degree angle, signifying the US opioid overdose death rate from 2000-2017.

OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose is a lively book about death. Preventable deaths haunt its pages. The protagonists of OD all have a touch of mordant wit tinging their heartfelt dedication to harm reduction. Their badassery has been quite effective—these compassionate cynics were galvanized to remodel their social worlds over the past 30 years. Many were touched by profound losses. Many knew people who died because naloxone and the knowledge to use was not ready to hand. Their stories intertwine with those of policy and public health, wars on drugs and drug users.

Every bartender knows that people grieve their losses differently. Some drown their sorrows. Others turn them into art, poetry, protest, or testimony. Some turn them into science, research, evidence. I included as much of the cultural production that has occurred in response to overdose as I could muster. There are 40 illustrations, some 20 of which came from Santa Cruz Needle Exchange’s ‘zine Junkphood. These keep the book’s pulse strong. You can learn a lot from people who believe, as Lee Hertel of Lee’s Rig Hub in Minneapolis, that “nobody deserves to die because of how they choose to navigate life.”

That’s something every bartender needs to hear and pass along.

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Living the War on Drugs in Colombia During the 1980s

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canandian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

I was born in Bogotá in December 1969, and raised in a bicultural world, moving back and forth between Colombia and Texas.  My Colombian mother and my American dad introduced me, unintentionally, to a certain complexity that generated in me a unique way of looking at the world. I do not remember much from my first seven years, just some constructed ideas from old photos. There are plenty of foggy memories that are not tied to a story that has a beginning or an end. Surprisingly, one of my first vivid memories from early childhood is a man being forcefully dragged out of his home by two men, as two other men with face covers restrained his wife and daughter. It was a six or seven second scene, before my mom drove away as the traffic light changed, in a busy neighborhood street, in the northern part of Bogotá.  

Ten years later, after one of the many deadly detonations of bombs in Bogotá ordered by Pablo Escobar, I connected the two incidents.  It was then that I realized that I was in the middle of the American War on Drugs.  I was a teenager at that point, fighting for my freedom and independence, and arguing against my family-imposed lockdown. The current COVID-19 situation brought back that feeling of confinement; I could not go out at night and my mobilization was limited to going to school and back home because the danger and threat were invisible, but the consequences were real. 

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Recovery at the Grassroots: Addicts, Alcoholics, and Communal Living in Postwar Los Angeles

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Jordan Mylet, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of California, San Diego. This is Part 2 in a series on The Addict and Addiction Treatment Before the War on Drugs. 

In the early 1950s, just a few years after a group of patients at the federal narcotics prison-hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, started meeting under the guidance of a local Alcoholics Anonymous emissary, groups like Sun Valley’s Narcotics Anonymous sprung up all over the greater Los Angeles area. They went by all sorts of names: Habit Forming Drugs, Hypes and Alcoholics, Addicts Anonymous, or even the hyper-specific San Fernando Valley Alcoholics Anonymous and Addicts Anonymous. But they were bound by a shared genealogy, one in which the lessons of institutional treatment’s failure to effect a “cure” were merged with the communitarian tradition of alcoholic mutual aid networks in the mid-20th century. During the postwar years, while policymakers, law enforcement officials, and medical professionals debated whether the best way to treat addicts was compulsory hospitalization or providing them with drugs at state clinics, a movement of grassroots recovery groups—which would go on to revolutionize the system of addiction treatment in the United States—spread across Los Angeles.  Continue reading →

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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