Liz’s Blaze It Blog II

Hey, everybody. How’s it going? In case you didn’t get your fill of drug-based scholastics in last post, I have curated another one for you.

Today’s topic?

Caroline Jean Acker’s “How crack found a niche in the American ghetto: The historical epidemiology of drug-related harm” vs. David Herzberg’s “Happy Pills in America : From Miltown to Prozac”.

In what is likely unsurprising to you, both of these readings discuss aspects of drug culture. Both focus on the United States. I will summarize each, then put them in conversation with one another.

How crack found a niche in the American ghetto

-The work aims to fill the gap that exists when only science is used to examine addiction.

-It does so by focusing on social factors that determine who it is that is becoming addicted.

-The argument of the piece’s purpose is that social factors are powerful, so powerful that it is irresponsible to ignore them when examining addiction.

-It focuses on crack epidemics in urban neighborhoods in the 1980’s, looking at causes of this circumstance.

Happy Pills (Pages 1-14)

-It opens with a dramatic “Paxil” advertisement that promises its users a restored sense of self.

-Explains that ads like these are rooted in post-WWII medicine in America.

-Mentions that the 1990’s ushered in a trend of skepticism of pharmaceutical messages.

-Emphasizes the role of consumerism.

-Mentions the defining of the “war on drugs” as often excluding prescription drugs.

-Brings back the powerful idea that the history we know is missing many pieces of information.

A Couple Examples of the Many Common Threads

There are many common threads throughout the two works, but I selected two that I found to be the most dominant.

While the works are different in many wats, there are certainly some areas of overlap. These areas show us themes of distinct importance within the dialogue of drug history.

I will be using “HCFNAG” as an easy, catchy, and brief acronym for “How crack found a niche in the American ghetto: The historical epidemiology of drug-related harm”. I will be using “Happy Pills” as the abbreviation for its full title.

1)Notions of drug intake as a solution/coping mechanism

              -HCFNAG: Coping with isolation/poverty through crack usage

                            -Acker discusses the long history of the Hill District, explaining that the years of struggle created a vulnerable environment in the face of drug epidemic. She writes, “Tracing these changes in the neighborhood captures some of the experience of its residents and sets the stage for the arrival of crack,” (Acker 79).

              -Happy Pills: Taking “Paxil” as a complete cure-all

                            -The 2001 ad for the medication promised that one would “see someone you haven’t seen in a while… Yourself” (Hertzberg 1). This pharmaceutical ad, posing as scientifically based, issued promises to consumers that are unrealistic.

2)Component of incomplete understanding shaping views of drug users

              -HCFNAG: idea of the “crack baby”

                            -Science initially, and incorrectly, informed Americans that babies whose mothers had smoked crack were prone to more devastating birth defects than babies whose mothers had consumed cocaine (Acker 84). This shocked the public and “Images of black ‘crack babies’ excited alarmed pity” (Acker 83). The sense of “otherness” already surrounding communities with crack problems were then magnified.

              -Happy Pills: Framing drug’s abilities as more capable than in actuality

                            -Drug advertisements in this century have had aspects of an “accent of consumer culture, implying a lifestyle choice as well as a medical therapy” (Acker 2). This advertising tactic markets a near-truth, rather than a truth, that ultimately misinforms and manipulates consumers.


In looking at these two works, we are able to better understand drug history in the United States as a whole. It is integral to interrogate concepts like the ways in which notions of drug intake manifests as a solution/coping mechanism and societal components of incomplete understanding shaping views of drug users.

To better understand the ways in which addiction manifests now, we must lean the ways in which it has occurred and been influenced in the past. Both Caroline Jean Acker’s “How crack found a niche in the American ghetto: The historical epidemiology of drug-related harm” and David Herzberg’s “Happy Pills in America : From Miltown to Prozac” provide us with useful insight.

Works Cited

Acker, Caroline Jean. “How Crack Found a Niche in the American Ghetto: The Historical Epidemiology of Drug-Related Harm.” BioSocieties, vol. 5, no. 1, 2010, pp. 70–88., doi:10.1057/biosoc.2009.1.

Herzberg, David. Happy Pills in America : From Miltown to Prozac, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central,

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