“Beyond the Medicines/Drugs Dichotomy: Historical Perspectives on Good and Evil in Pharmacy in Johannesburg, South Africa (5-7 December 2019) – Conference Report

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore and Jamie Banks of the University of Leicester.

Twenty-one delegates from ten countries gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa from 5 to 7 December for the “Beyond the Medicines/Drug Dichotomy: Historical Perspectives on Good and Evil in Pharmacy” conference. Masterfully organized by Thembisa Waetjen (University of Johannesburg) and co-sponsored by the Alcohol and Drugs History Society (ADHS), the Wellcome Trust, the University of Johannesburg, and the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare (CSHHH), the conference was held at the stunning facilities of the South Gauteng Branch of the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa. The event also marked the latest step forward for the “Changing Minds: Psychoactive Substances in African and Asian History” project under the direction of Jim Mills (University of Strathclyde), which works to connect scholars of drugs and alcohol history in China, Africa, the UK, and beyond.

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No Elephant in the Room? The ADHS at AHA in NYC, and the end(!)(?) of the War on Drugs

Editor’s Note: Today’s post on the recent annual conference of the American Historical Association comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

The Alcohol and Drugs History Society was represented last week at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in a set of five fascinating panels, headlined by a wonderful discussion after lunch on Saturday on Capitalism and Addiction, but overall covering topics from pop culture to tea/coffee houses, from songs to theater to art, from India and Pakistan to Paris to New York, the very city in which we gathered.

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Workshop Report: Drugs and the Politics of Consumption in Japan

Editor’s Note: This workshop report is from Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, an associate professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who recently traveled to Switzerland for the event.

A workshop entitled “Drugs and the Politics of Consumption in Japan” was held at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, from Aug. 22-24, 2019. It was organized by Dr. Judith Vitale with the help of Ulrich Brandenburg of the host institution. The workshop was impressively multinational, bringing together speakers representing universities from six countries and three continents. 

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The Eastern Bloc, the Cold War and International Drug Trafficking

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the final in the two-part series from Dr. Ned Richardson-Little on drug use in East Germany during the Communist period. Richardson-Little is a Freigeist Fellow at the University of Erfurt, Germany, where he is currently leading a major research project on the history of “deviant globalization” in modern Germany. Originally from Canada, he studied at McGill University and received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has previously worked at the University of Exeter (UK). If you’re interested in learning more about the sources in this post, contact Richardson-Little at ned.richardson-little@uni-erfurt.de.

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Dr. Ned Richardson-Little

One of the staples of Eastern Bloc propaganda was the notion that socialism produced a drug-free society. Under capitalism, young people were driven to narcotics due to the emptiness of consumerism and the despair of exploitation; under socialism there was no such need for escape. To some extent, this propaganda was actually based on reality. In contrast to the post-war West, there was no mass drug culture in Eastern Europe. Cannabis, cocaine, heroin and other restricted substances were also banned or strictly regulated in the East, but there were comparatively few arrests for possession or dealing. The black market could provide many imported products normally unavailable in state stores, but very rarely did that include trafficked narcotics. As one East German put it, hashish was as “hard to get your hands on as explosives.”

Was this, however, really an effect of the enlightened social policies of state socialism? Possibly for some, but the main driver was economics: Eastern Bloc citizens lacked the hard currency needed to purchase narcotics from traffickers. Few international criminal smuggling operations were interested in the socialist market, where – in the absence of Western money – they would need to barter for locally produced goods. As it turns out, not many people in the heroin business are willing to trade their product for a Trabant. And thus, the proliferation of international trafficking routes in the post-war era largely bypassed the Eastern Bloc. While China was once one of the great centres of opium addiction, its consumption dropped off almost completely after the Communist Revolution. Although Cuba was once a hotspot for organized crime, the mafia relocated after the Castro regime took control in 1959

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Reefer Madness Behind the Iron Curtain

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writer Dr. Ned Richardson-Little, and it begins a two-week special series on drug use in East Germany during the Communist period. Richardson-Little is a Freigeist Fellow at the University of Erfurt, Germany, where he is currently leading a major research project on the history of “deviant globalization” in modern Germany. Originally from Canada, he studied at McGill University and received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has previously worked at the University of Exeter (UK). If you’re interested in learning more about the sources in this post, contact Richardson-Little at ned.richardson-little@uni-erfurt.de.

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Dr. Ned Richardson-Little

In Junky, William S. Burrough’s 1953 memoir of his experiences as a heroin user, he captures the paranoia of the early Cold War in America in a conversation about drugs:

“Tell me,” I said, “exactly what is the tie-up between narcotics and Communism?”

“You know the answer to that one a lot better than I do […] The same people are in both narcotics and Communism. Right now, they control most of America.”

The idea that communists were behind narcotics was hardly a fringe notion and it was often advanced publicly by the US Drug Czar Harry Anslinger and other state officials. Anslinger claimed that there was a global communist conspiracy to use drugs as a weapon against capitalism on the path to global domination. He warned of “Red China’s long range dope-and-dialectic assault on America” and claimed that Cuba’s Fidel Castro had “joined the hammer and sickle – and the narcotic needle,” by assisting the People’s Republic of China in trafficking drugs into the US. In 1948, he testified to Congress that “Marijuana leads to pacifism and Communist brainwashing.” In the early Cold War, drug warriors in the West saw the fight against narcotics and communism as a singular conflict.

On the other side of the Iron Curtain, however, Communists were equally concerned about the dangerous impact of narcotics and addiction, which they believed were the product of a diseased capitalist society. While many leftists in the West saw recreational drug consumption as part of an anti-capitalist counterculture, the state socialists of the Eastern Bloc were just as vehemently opposed to narcotics as capitalist anti-drug warriors.

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Call for Proposals: Drug Policy Research Incubator Pleasure and Self-Regulating Drug Use

Editor’s Note: We’re double-posting today for an exciting reason. See below for a call for proposals from the Drug Policy Alliance that may be of interest to readers. Act fast – proposals are due in one month. 

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The Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of Academic Engagement is committed to improving drug policy research. Through a project called Unbounded Knowledge: Re-envisioning Drug Policy Research (UBK), we have worked with researchers over the past two years to identify gaps and opportunities in the field with the intention of fostering interdisciplinary research and improving the evidence base that informs drug policy in the U.S.

Researchers in the UBK project noted the deficiency of research in the United States on unproblematic drug use and/or drug use motivated by the desire for pleasure and recreation. One of the recommendations from that project was to examine a key factor that shapes U.S. drug research: the pervasive belief that some drugs are inherently harmful and addictive, a position that influences research questions and populations studied, as well as the outcomes that are measured.

• What might we learn from studying non-problematic, normative, or self-regulating drug use?
• What skills, knowledges, choices, and routines do non-problematic drug users employ?
• How might we capture a more representative sample of the complex diversity of people who use drugs?
• What is the role of pleasure in drug use choices?
• How is poly-drug use part of the pleasure equation?
• What other questions will help us better understand pleasure as part of non-problematic drug use?

We invite applications for researchers from all disciplines to join us for a one-day meeting to develop research projects focused on the topic of non-problematic drug use and pleasure. We envision an exciting, creative session wherein scholars from a breadth of fields come together to generate research ideas to advance our understanding in ways that could best influence policy change. Our goal is to use this session to discuss specific research proposals that will then be further developed and circulated to funders.

To apply, please submit:
•  A CV
•  An 800-word statement describing:
• Your specific research interest in this area and your background, if any, in related issues
• How your specific research interest would benefit from an interdisciplinary approach
• Any experience you have working collaboratively across disciplines

We are particularly interested in:
• Proposals that center people who use drugs and people directly impacted by the war on drugs in research design, development, and publication
• Applied projects that are policy-relevant
• Projects requiring an interdisciplinary approach
• Scholars who are willing to “think outside the box” with innovative methods to work beyond the limits of most research currently funded by the public sector

The Drug Policy Alliance will cover all associated travel and lodging costs. This meeting will be held in conjunction with (the day before) DPA’s biennial International Drug Policy Reform Conference, and participants are encouraged to stay and attend the conference.

Email materials to Jules Netherland (jnetherland@drugpolicy.org) and Ingrid Walker (iwalker2@washington.edu).

Screenshot 2019-08-12 at 1.33.00 PMDeadline: September 13, 2019
Workshop: November 6, 2019 in St. Louis, MO

The Pharmacological Era

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a history PhD student at Southern Illinois University.

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Stanton Peele

Psychologist Stanton Peele refers to the time we’re living in as a “pharmacological era,” one where “drug use, both approved and unapproved, is widespread, almost universal.” Currently, it’s dealt with through regulation and prohibition. Dr. Peele argues: “Instead, we need to accept drug use as socially and psychologically regulatable behavior to be incorporated into modern life.”

In some ways, we’re already there. It’s near universal, just two-tiered. A Vice News headline summed it up perfectly: “America’s Rich and Powerful have permission slips to get high.” We don’t have to look far to see these inequities in action. Recently, Elon Musk—of Tesla fame—smoked a blunt on the Joe Rogan Experience. Had it been a Tesla employee, they would’ve been fired. Ivy League students swallow smart pills to study just like their future selves, the businessmen burning the midnight oil. And a white woman popping a Xanax found in the seabed of her Hermès bag, totally normal too. But a black man smoking a joint—whoa, wait a minute, that’s unacceptable. So, yeah, like I said universal but two-tiered—same dynamic in Washington. Recall Dr. Ronnie Jackson, Trump’s (failed) nominee for Veteran Affairs Secretary. Apart from his stunning lack of qualifications and experience, we learned during his time as Physician to the President he regularly doled out Schedule II drugs for recreational purposes. As Politico reported:

Nearly a dozen current and former officials — including some who were treated by Jackson while working in the Obama White House — say Jackson is being unfairly labeled as a “candy man” and that casual use of some prescription drugs is an established fact of life at the highest echelons of government. “Not everyone wants it. But anyone who does gets it,” said a former Trump administration official who traveled extensively with Jackson and the president.

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