Most of the immediate readership of this paper will likely in some way be members of or connected to the Emory University community—and a little-known fact lurks in our own backyard: in the mid-late 1950s, Emory University medical school researchers, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and the Central Intelligence Agency jointly participated in the testing of LSD on federal prisoners in Atlanta. All three organizations were sued in federal court and faced criticism by the local news media.

In this piece, I aim to briefly historicize drug use at Emory. In no way is this paper meant to be a comprehensive history of drugs at Emory, but rather a snapshot and potential outline to guide future inquiry; many of the facts and anecdotes revealed by the following research invite many questions. What was and is Emory’s relationship with drugs, both in the healthcare field and from students’ perspectives? Why do more people not question Emory’s historical tendency to regulate student drug consumption on its campus while simultaneously flaunting medical drug research? What are the modern implications of Emory ignoring its drug history?


Founded in 1836 in Oxford, Georgia, then Emory College moved to its current location in Atlanta in 1915. Relocating to one of the biggest cities in the South dramatically altered the history of Emory; business flourished as the population of the Atlanta metropolitan area steadily grew and Emory established itself as a respectable university and a medical center (Emory University History). However, geographical proximity to an urban center also allowed increased access to drugs and alcohol.

Emory Students’ Attitudes towards Drugs and Alcohol: Past and Present

The independent student newspaper of Emory University, The Emory Wheel, is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year. The university archives include the digitalization of every Wheel issue from 1919 to 2009. Reading the Wheel archives generally reveals that Emory University was no different than other major, southern universities, particularly in the 1960s. Weekends on Greek life’s Eagle Row featured parties at every fraternity on campus; students drank, embraced the counterculture like at Berkley, on the whole opposed the Vietnam War, and pulled crazy, lawless pranks like the one described by Wheel staff writer Arnold Karol in the October 28, 1966 issue: “Along with traces of blood (obtained from the hospital blood bank), [the pranksters] left a blood-splattered hammer, several pieces of overturned furniture and various articles of clothing. The scene was so realistic that the police searched the campus for a body for several days afterwards and the Atlanta Constitution carried a banner headline, ‘Hammer Murder at Emory.’” Undoubtedly, Emory students drank and used drugs with relative frequency. A simple keyword search for “drugs” in the Wheel archives reveals 1,382 hits, dating back to 1920. Searches for LSD and marijuana reveal 73 hit and 401 hits, respectively—all of which does not include the last ten years.

One legal but harmful substance certainly prevalent at Emory during the 50s, 60s, and 70s was tobacco. On Thursday, May 9, 1957, (Vol. 38, Issue 28), the Wheel featured a half-page Marlboro ad with a man smoking a cigarette and the caption “You get a lot to like -filter -flavor -flip-top box.” On the very next page, another half-page ad promotes L&M cigarettes: “And this summer…get acquainted with the modern L&M Crush-proof box that’s ‘taking over’ on campus!” (The Emory Wheel). This ad certainly contrasts Emory’s current campus-wide no-smoking, “tobacco free campus” policy (Emory HR), which was instituted in 1988, according to original university internal archived documents (Emory University Senate).

Alcohol was and continues to be prevalent on Emory’s campus. For example, in the Wheel’s February 18, 2000 issue, a College Council ad reads as follows: “The College Council Ad Hoc Committee on Alcohol Abuse presents a Summit on DUI. Monday, February 21st 8:00 PM, Harland Cinema. Come discuss ways that we can reduce DUI within the Emory Community” (The Emory Wheel). A few months later, “SGA propose[d the] repeal of parking permits to limit drinking and driving incidents,” a measure which passed 18-3-3 (De la Merced). These examples show that DUI and alcohol abuse were problems on campus, enough so that College Council formed a committee on it and held public outreach events. Local alcohol vendors like Rocky’s Package Store on nearby Briarcliff Road ran ads in the Wheel, advertising for low prices and hiring students in the September 15, 2000 issue (The Emory Wheel).

One anecdote that demonstrates students’ modern attitudes towards drugs and alcohol at Emory was the February 2007 Student Government Association presidential election. Brian Kelly, one of four candidates for SGA President, ran on proposals including: “Disband student government, allow students to vote directly on SGA funding, free beer at Clairmont [Campus] and decriminalize marijuana” (Benz and Menegrian). Another hot button issue in the same election championed by candidate Andrew Lugerner was the late-night shuttle service to local bars which was “…briefly halted by administrators last semester and failed to receive $7,000 in funding from College Council last week” (Benz and Menegrian). Lugerner allegedly proposed this as a solution to drunk driving, claiming “…he was almost killed by a drunk driver himself” (Benz and Menegrian). Kelly garnered approximately 11% of the total vote, finishing in third place, and Lugerner ended up around 30% before ultimately losing as the runner up in a runoff—both not insignificant amounts—signaling at least some Emory students’ desire for student government that supported drug and alcohol consumption (Benz and Rizzo).

Emory’s SGA, to their credit, has also recently organized dialogue on drugs. SGA appropriated $4,000 to help fund a debate on the war on drugs called the Great Debate Series, featuring Steve Hager, editor in chief of High Times magazine, a publication advocating for the legalization of marijuana, and Bob Stutman, a member of a Congressional panel for national drug policy (Menegrian). This conference, coupled with the above anecdotes, reflect student substance use on campus, or at the very least a prevalence of public dialogue around drugs and alcohol at Emory—both of which needed to somehow be enforced.

Drug Enforcement at Emory: Police and Policy[1]

Founded in 1977, the Emory University Police Department is a full-service, fully accredited police agency responsible for patrolling and responding to calls for service in and around Emory’s campus. Prior to 1977, Emory’s properties were patrolled by the DeKalb County Police Department. EPD compiles annual data of drug interventions at Emory’s main campus in Atlanta and the original Oxford campus near Covington, GA. The most readily available data details EPD’s involvement in drug cases from 2011-2018.[2]


The above charts detail drug law disciplinary referrals (i.e. EPD electing to forgo legal processes in favor of referring the individual to student or employee conduct boards) and drug law arrests and citations. In almost every year, drug law disciplinary referrals eclipsed arrests and citations, sometimes by extremely wide margins. Furthermore, in both charts and in most years, usually (but not always) a majority of drug violations occurred in on-campus student housing, suggesting that the largest drug-using population at Emory is its students, not healthcare staff, hospital visitors, or campus passers-by. Finally, both drug law disciplinary referrals and arrests have generally trended down since 2011, perhaps a rough indicator of drug usage rates at Emory, policing techniques, or broader national, state, and local trends towards de-emphasizing the criminality of simple possession of marijuana. According to a drug case summary spreadsheet provided by EPD records manager Officer Edward Shoemaker, marijuana is generally the drug most encountered by Emory officers. More serious substance abuse, usually opioids, stolen from Emory’s healthcare facilities (either by staff or patients) occurs on average a few times per year, and most always results in arrests. Nonetheless, the spreadsheet generally trends to simple marijuana possession by Emory students as the most common drug crime on campus.

One interesting major EPD drug case was the arrest of business school undergraduate student John McGourty in 2017. According to Monica Lefton of the Emory Wheel, McGourty was arrested by EPD after they searched his dorm room in the Kappa Sigma fraternity house and found oxycodone, marijuana, and Vyvanse in addition to plastic bags, a scale, $2,800 in cash, and a scale. McGourty was charged with “… two counts of possession of a Schedule I or II controlled substance with intent to distribute; one count of manufacture of marijuana; and one count of possession and use of drug-related objects” (Lefton). This case represents a major drug bust by EPD, one that likely dramatically decreased the supply of multiple illegal drugs on campus, proving that students partake in much more than marijuana use.   

Another arm that Emory has historically used to enforce drug usage on its campuses by students is its internal conduct policies. As early as the 1950s, Emory administrators began to revise the code, not only on drugs and alcohol, but also on “academic dishonesty…, deception in university matters…, physical abuse of another’s person…, and sex offenses,” among other crimes and serious infractions, according to a hand-signed memo and letter from Ben F. Johnson, Dean of the Law School, explaining his draft to University Senate Chairman Frederick C. Prussner (Johnson, Ben). The final policy was “…adopted by the Emory University Senate at its February 16, 1968, meeting” (Committee). The policy used and mentioned the words of the Harrison Narcotic Act, noting that “Emory University does not condone the use of mind-altering drugs, e.g. marijuana and LSD…” (Committee). The policy goes on to explain the various dangers and illegality of drugs and further attempts to deter student usage by writing, “There is no evidence that the use of such drugs enhances academic achievement; on the contrary, such use is accompanied by impairment of judgement, reduced achievement, and decreased ability to complete successfully a program of academic studies” (Committee). Finally, the policy prescribes that any student in violation can receive up to the maximum penalty from the university general code of conduct (Committee).

The current Emory student code of conduct contains many of these same elements, expressly prohibiting possession, usage, etc. of alcohol or drugs on campus (Office of Student Conduct). One addition to contemporary Emory policy is the Medical Amnesty Policy which states that students will not be punished as part of a conduct case if they seek medical attention for themselves or others in a drug or alcohol-related emergency (Office of Student Conduct).

Atlanta and Drugs

The history of drugs at Emory would be incomplete without acknowledging the history of drugs in Atlanta. However, the history of drugs in Atlanta and in the South generally has been only tangentially discussed in some modern, epidemiological sources, but none to my knowledge have completely historicized Atlanta’s drug history, much less exclusively Emory’s. Despite a lack of a concrete magnum opus, modern statistics suggest that the Atlanta metropolitan area’s use of drugs is at or slightly higher than the national average (NSDUH). Despite this present-day belief of past and current drug prevalence in Atlanta (and seemingly at Emory), a counter to the counterculture started growing in the post-Vietnam era. Emily Dufton, in her book Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America, notes that in Druid Hills, “…a wooded neighborhood just east of Emory University, in the northeast corner of Atlanta…,” a seemingly well-off area, Marsha Manatt “Keith” Schuchard caught her thirteen year old daughter, Ashley, smoking weed and drinking with her friends in the summer of 1976 (Dufton 89-90). Schuchard would go on to lead the parents’ movement against (primarily) marijuana, effectively pointing out health concerns for youth consumption and pushing politicians under the upcoming Reagan administration to increase drug enforcement nationwide. As the parents’ movement grew, Atlanta hosted the Parents’ Resource Institute on Drug Education (PRIDE) conference in 1981, which was attended by “over 500 parents, teachers, professionals, and doctors who traveled to Georgia from thirty-four states…” (Dufton 145). Perhaps Ashley Schuchard and her teenage friends were influenced by the counterculture at Emory—or not—but the ironic proximity, if nothing more than geographic coincidence, is worth mentioning in Emory’s drug history.

Despite the materialization of the parents’ movement and Atlanta actually emerging as an epicenter against drug use, Emory continued its complicated drug history, which this time was surprisingly not perpetuated by its students, but rather its faculty, including “…Dr. Thomas Bryant, a boisterous forty-year-old with degrees from Emory University in medicine and law…” who served as president of the Drug Abuse Council, “…where he was charged with finding moderate responses to drug abuse issues, including researching policies that could contain the use of heroin in urban slums and examining the marijuana issues being debated in the states” (Dufton 63). Sadly, other Emory scholars proved less astute in their drug-related careers.

Emory’s LSD Fiasco

The most prominent story of drugs at Emory before the 1980s and the War on Drugs is the LSD scandal mentioned in the introduction. Multiple articles from the Atlanta Journal Constitution state that Emory doctors Dr. Harry L. Williams and Dr. Carl Pfeiffer tested LSD on federal prisoners for approximately four years. According to Neal Willard in his May 18, 1958 article in the Atlanta Constitution, “Sixteen prisoners in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary go crazy one day a week so that doctors from Emory University can study causes of insanity and seek a cure” (Willard). He goes on to note that the prisoners all volunteered for the study, which started approximately three years earlier, in 1956.

In 1981, the prisoners, who were former subjects of the Emory and CIA LSD tests, sued the university, the CIA, and the federal Bureau of Prisons in the Northern District of Georgia Federal Court in Scott et al. v. Casey et al. According to the original lawsuit, released in 2008 on the CIA’s reading room website, the federal jury charged with deciding the civil case decided that the 2-year statute of limitations applied, ruling against the plaintiffs. According to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) at the time, plaintiffs had no more than two years to sue after they found out that an action resulting in potential damages occurred. Thus, the ruling precluded any further examination of the facts surrounding the plaintiffs’ case, dismissing it on a technicality by discrediting the former prisoners’ testimonies of when they found out they were wrongly experimented on (CIA).

The lawsuit’s finding of facts states that “At the conclusion of the session, the participant was offered a stipend of $3 per session, good time credit, and a promise of a favorable recommendation to the United States Parole Commission” (CIA 5). Despite all of the prisoners “volunteering” for the study and signing Emory’s waiver, exhibited verbatim in the lawsuit, there remains doubt as to what extent the prisoners were potentially coerced by the federal government and by Emory to participate in the study.

Not only does Scott v. Casey raise legal and ethical questions proximate to the study itself, but further ethical malfeasance also stems from statements made by Dr. Harry Williams and Dr. Carl Pfeiffer about LSD after the fact. For example, a February 9, 1967 Emory Wheel article summarizes “’Drug abuse, LSD and the College Student’…the topic of the Feb. 2 E.R.A. Luncheon discussion, led by Dr. Harry Williams, pharmacologist in Emory Medical School” (Safra).  The article goes on to claim that “…Dr. Williams, who has administered the drug [LSD] several times in a controlled prison environment, describes the phenomenon as one which he would never want to experience. Of all the people who have voluntarily taken the drug from Dr. Williams, none have come back to request a second dose” (Safra). In the same article, Williams admits that “…Larger doses, however, are extremely dangerous, as the user loses complete insight and may attempt such things as flying out of windows” (Safra). Finally, Williams admits that the long-term effects LSD are unknown: “Whether or not LSD causes permanent damage to the nervous system is still an open question” (Safra).

These admissions beg the following questions: How much LSD was administered to the prisoners? Did it approach Williams’ “extremely dangerous” threshold? Why would Dr. Williams give a substance that he himself would not take voluntarily to his subjects? And if no subjects have ever come back to take a second dosage voluntarily, to what extent were the prisoners coerced into participation? Finally, if Williams himself did not know the long-term impacts of LSD, to what extent were the prisoners injured for life, as they claim in Scott et al. v. Casey et al? Remember that Dr. Williams’ statements above came in 1967, well after the study at the penitentiary had concluded.[3]

Dr. Harry L. Williams (left) squirts LSD into the mouth of Dr. Carl Pfeiffer at Emory as a microphone records, 1955 (Library of Congress)

Emory and the Drug Supply[4]

More recently than the 1950s, Emory Healthcare found itself in the midst of a modern drug scandal. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, employees at Emory University Midtown Hospital stole between $20-$40 million worth of potent and controlled prescription medications, for which the hospital paid and which the employees then sold into the illegal drug supply and/or consumed themselves. Only after avoiding detection for several years and a subsequent multi-year investigation by the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency and the DEA, were the employees fired and the supply stream stymied (Mariano). For its role in the scandal, Emory Healthcare faced sanctions and internal scrutiny, was fined $200,000 and has its pharmacy license suspended for three years (Mariano). As Mariano writes in the AJC, “Inadequate purchasing, receiving and recordkeeping safeguards kept Emory Midtown staff from detecting the illegal operation, but the hospital thinks its controls were sufficient, the order states. Emory denies all liability” (Mariano). According to Rebecca Lindstrom, multiple sources suggest that theft of drugs from hospitals in Georgia is a huge, underreported problem that often receives little to no publicity.

While the above cases certainly taint Emory University’s reputation, Emory scholars have performed and continue to conduct groundbreaking research, a plethora of which is centered around drugs. For example, Dr. Dennis Liotta, perhaps Emory’s most famous professor, revolutionized HIV treatment with the invention of Emvitra in 2003, a drug which over 90% of HIV/AIDS patients nationwide use today to effectively control the disease (Emory Winship Cancer Institute). Dr. Liotta is one of countless examples where Emory has positively impacted the world through drugs. Undoubtedly, these positive iterations complicate the history of drugs at Emory because Emory continues to both positively and negatively affect the legal and illicit drug supply.

Conclusion: Methods and Limitations

Research for this paper included a variety of primary sources: Emory University policy archives, The Emory Wheel archives, Emory University Police Department data and case files, and Atlanta Journal Constitution archives. As with most historical scholarship, analysis is limited by the sources and data that have been retained. In the case of this project, comprehensive drug arrest data from EPD is unavailable for multiple reasons including privacy, paper records (lack of historical electronic records), and records being destroyed recently. Furthermore, records from the Wheel, while searchable and easily readable in a digitalized format, were simply too vast to comprehensively review due to time constraints. Nonetheless, taken together, these sources provide a glimpse into Emory’s fraught history with drugs.


The implications for Emory’s “dual” drug history are vast. On one hand, Emory (like most modern universities) is susceptible to drug use on its campus simply due to the demographic it serves: young students, many of whom have disposable income and the means to at least recreationally use drugs and/or alcohol. Furthermore, adding in undergraduate Greek Life, Emory’s vast healthcare facilities (multiple famous and highly rated hospitals, clinics, etc.) increases the likelihood for abuse and theft of more serious drugs, like in the Emory Midtown Hospital case and in the handful of cases every year summarized in EPD’s spreadsheet. Nevertheless, Emory has generally successfully insulated itself from the drug problems in the neighboring city of Atlanta—from the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s to the modern opioid epidemic—proven simply by the fact that those drugs rarely surface at Emory.

I, for one, a current (and relatively well-informed) Emory undergraduate had never heard about any of the above stories prior to research for this paper—and I suspect most other members of the Emory community, past and present, had not either. Instead of using its powerful lawyers and highly-regarded reputation to sweep at best shady practices and at worst downright negligence under the rug, Emory needs to at least acknowledge its complicated drug history and take further steps to reduce student usage, healthcare employee abuse, and heaven forbid another CIA-LSD crisis—all while augmenting support for the Dr. Dennis Liotta’s of the university, who undoubtedly, through drugs, make a difference in the lives of countless patient.

Note: Footnotes, and a complete MLA style bibliography can be found via this publicly accessible link.

[1] Disclosure: The author of this paper is a current undergraduate student at Emory University, works as a student ambassador with the Emory Police Department, and volunteers with Emory EMS, a division of EPD. All information contained herein has been obtained through either open-source, publicly available research or has been made available for public dissemination through official channels.

[2] EPD defines “non-campus property” as follows: “Any building or property owned or controlled by a student organization recognized by the institution; and any building or property (other than a branch campus) owned or controlled by an institution of higher education that is used in direct support of, or in relation to, the institution’s educational purposes, is frequently used by students, and is not within the same reasonably contiguous geographic area of the institution. EPD defines “public property” as follows: “All public property, including thoroughfares, streets, sidewalks, and parking facilities, that is within the campus, or immediately adjacent to and accessible from the campus. (Source: Officer Edward Shoemaker, records manager, EPD).

[3] The Rose Library at Emory University has a recording of Dr. Williams talking to Emory students about LSD in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the audio file is not digitized and was thus unavailable to source for this paper.

[4] Note: While shocking and immoral, the stories described herein center around a few individuals in the Emory community and Emory Healthcare. These stories should not serve to discredit the good work the vast majority of Emory nurses and doctors perform. However, stories like this should make us wonder and question how much fraud, abuse, and misconduct related to drugs occurs today at Emory, particularly in the healthcare setting.

1 thought on “A BRIEF HISTORY OF DRUGS AT EMORY, 1950-2018

  1. I really liked this! A very interesting and relevant topic. I thought it was super cool that you posted a link that shared the number of drug-related reports and arrests at Emory main campus and Oxford. I also thought that the quotes from Emory Wheel and student government were really cool. It was refreshing to see that at least the students here still want to have fun, even if the faculty are concerned with liabilities. I also found the LSD experiments to be very fascinating!

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