Blog topics: Courtwright’s addicts who survived: Hooked and Caroline Acker’s: How Crack found a niche in the American Ghetto.
In her article, Acker delves deep into the social mechanism through which a person tries and subsequently becomes addicted to a drug and asserts that drug addiction epidemics are not solely dependent on the anatomy of the drug but on “the social context of the drug” (Acker 6). She does this by examining three different time points and their respective epidemics. First, she examines morphine use in the late 19th century, then cocaine in the 70s and subsequently crack cocaine use in the 80s.
In the late 19th century, the use of morphine and other opiate derived products were widely normalized among the population. So much so that they were fully legal often overprescribed by physicians for the simplest of ailments. This combined with the invention of the hypodermic syringe which “offered a powerful new route of administration produced a population heavily reliant upon these drugs (Acker 8). Later on, she highlights a different social mechanism for the increase in cocaine use during the 70s citing that it was primarily because of the image and status associated with the drug. This was because the general public saw it as very “chic” because it associated with highly idolized people in society such as “rock stars and stockbrokers”(Acker 9). Onto her main illustration of how crack penetrated and anchored itself “in poor inner-city neighborhoods where illicit markets compete successfully against constrained opportunities in the legitimate workforce.
Crack cocaine existed within a specific niche of society, it was mainly used by the lower working class in the inner city. This was primarily due to the fact that “crack was a market innovation” in the sense that it was “watered down” cocaine at a much lower price point which made it very affordable for less affluent neighborhoods (Acker 10). Cocaine was the opposite as it was primarily found “in the veins of affluent purchasers” from much more affluent neighborhoods (Acker 10). The price was not the sole reason for many people to start using. The atmosphere of inner-city was described as having “disproportionate rates of crime and disease” and overall lack of legitimate economy due to a decline in industrialization post World War II making the “decline in employment levels in the region” shockingly apparent. Consequently, this caused people to participate in the crack scene for a variety of reasons.
Some theorize that it is because we have an innate “desire to alter consciousness” but Ackers states that it’s because people were “search for excitement or a more passive process of seeking identity and belonging” in a time where their surroundings were unforgiving as most users reported “abusive childhoods and disorganized families”(Acker 13)
Courtwright’s journal documenting the etiology of surviving opium addicts was very interesting to read as they were in direct communication with Acker’s article. Courtwright has transcribed the experiences of three different addicts but two of them stuck with me as they seemed more interesting. The first one was about an addict named Ivory who was born to “poor black parents in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1920. His father, “a street guy who did nothing,” left when he was six years old” (3). Subsequently, Ivory was then arrested for stealing when he was just eleven years old, “and was in and out of reformatories and prisons for the rest of his life (Courtwright 3). It was in jail where he first tried heroin stating that it made him sick and caused him to throw up all over the place. After that, he swore he wouldn’t take it anymore until it was offered to him by a friend. During this experience, he still threw up everywhere but it was more enjoyable. The interesting part is that Ivory didn’t become addicted to heroin until he started selling it make ends meet. This is in direct communication with Acker’s article as the lack of employment due to various factors such as crime made it hard for Ivory to find a job that pays well, as a result, he resorted to selling heroin. It didn’t even seem to be something dangerous. Ivory described one of his clients as his “friend who would buy heroin from him and shoot up at his house” (Courtwright 6). This is reminiscent of Acker’s assertion that people use crack, or perhaps any drug, as a “passive process for finding identity and belonging”. This is also apparent in the way Ivory started selling and taking heroin. They were both introduced to him by friends.
The other interesting case was Sam, as he was reminiscent of Americans who acquired their addiction through prescriptions from a “physician, pharmacist, or patent medicine vendor” through the belief that “they were relieving their ailments with a little opium or morphine”. Similar to what was said in Ackers about opium use in the early 19th century.Sam was born to parents who became millionaires, he lived the high-class life which ultimately produced feelings of “unhappiness and alienation”(Courtwright 10). These feelings manifested physically in the form of “50-minute long migraines” in which he cited the cause for the migraines as a product of stress from “ a woman with whom he was entangled; another was his unhappiness with his wife, and the third was the hatred of his father, and the loathing of the work he was engaged in. He hated his family business” as it did not “represent him or what he is capable of”(Courtwright 10)
One contradiction I encountered had to do with Acker. She states in her article that “rates of problematic use dropped as people experienced or witnessed negative consequences of use” which was not observed in any of thememoirs from the addict. Especially in the cause of Ivory who had a terrible first time using heroin. He was still easily convinced to try it a second time. Maybe this was due to the social aspect of the way he was coerced into doing the second time because it was suggested by a friend.