All posts by Jillian Nelson

The Institutionalization/ Medicalization of Opioid Addiction Treatment: Comparing “The Clinics” and “Methadone Maintenance”

The chapter The Clinic in “Addicts Who Survived” by David Courtwright et al. describe the time period in US history where opioid treatment had a “clinic era” (280) from 1919-1923, in which addicts were able to access narcotics in some form from these establishments. This chapter first features an interview with one of the clinic doctors/founders, a person who was addicted to opioids and utilized a clinic, and finally another physician working at a clinic. The first clinic doctor, Willis Butler, a health officer and medical examiner, describes how he was propositioned by the president of the Louisiana state board of health to open a narcotic clinic in Shreveport modeled after an already existing clinic in New Orleans. Butler describes the process of how he did not agree with the process occurring in New Orleans, similar to which also was described to be taking place in the New York City clinic described by S. Dana Hubbard later in the chapter, where addicts were given decreasing amounts of substances, however, in the New Orleans clinic they were deceived and would dilute the vials with water, whereas in New York, the patients knew they were being slowly withdrawn. Themes of stigmatization and the institutionalization of drugs and drug users arise in all three interviews featured in the chapter. In Butler’s interview he describes how every person who came to his clinic had to be fingerprinted and background checked by the FBI (284) and I wonder if this intense screening process that registers the drug user as such was a barrier to treatment for some people, especially in a time with an increasing shift towards stigma towards drug users in light of the Harrison Narcotics Act that was about to be passed. This stigmatization and desire for institutional control was especially clear in S. Dana Hubbard’s testimony about her work in the narcotic clinic in New York and her overall evaluation of drug addicts as a group of people, describing them to be selfish, cunning, and willing to do anything for drugs, a group of people in need of control, as was clear by her endorsement of the Harrison Act. 

The chapter Methadone Maintenance features the stories of three methadone patients, Sam, Red, and Jerry, and then one of the founders of methadone maintenance treatment, Dr. Vincent Dole. One of the biggest common themes expressed by the first three men interviewed was the feeling that although methadone was something that had improved their lives in terms of being able to lead a normal, functioning life, they felt trapped in a way as well because methadone maintenance is a lifelong treatment and requires daily visits to treatment centers or clinics, which are not available in all places so travel can be hard or impossible and also it can be inconvenient in daily life in general. One of the men, Red, also spoke about how methadone was a cheaper alternative to heroin and that this lifestyle was more manageable after spending mounting amounts of money on his drug habit and not being able to predict the quality of the heroin. One of the most interesting and important parts of the chapter is the section with the interview with Dr. Dole, and a point that he speaks about is the metabolic theory of addiction that there are essentially chemical hooks and dependencies involved that were permanent effects of addiction, and methadone was a solution to this, and Dole supported this idea in conjunction with the belief that in addition to methadone treatment there was a need for treatment of the underlying factors of addiction. Another important point that he speaks about is how methadone expanded rapidly in the 70s under Nixon and how this was not necessarily positive because there was not a medical and institutional understanding of the mechanisms of support needed to make methadone treatment effective. 

A major commonality between both chapters are the sections featuring the interviews from Dr. Dole and Dr. Butler, who were both pioneers in their field, and while somewhat controversial figures, they both present the narrative of caring about patients and changing the way that the system was previously set up to treat addicts as test subjects. Dr. Butler was opposed to the idea of trying to trick patients into gradually withdrawing and he was passionate about and believed in his method of treatment so much so that he fought to keep it open despite government warnings. This is similar to Dr. Dole, who describes his feelings about it being necessary to treat addicts as patients and human beings and to treat the underlying emotional causes rather than simply adopting the more standard “prison ward” and “guinea pig attitude” towards the patients (336). He was also instrumental in helping to develop addiction treatment for people who were suffering from withdrawal when they were in jail in New York City, as he described the situation of the people as being in great suffering. Similar to Dr. Butler, Dr. Dole also was not supported by the government and specifically the Federal Bureau of Narcotics tried to stop his experiments and work using methadone maintenance because it was “maintaining addicts.” This once again also highlights the common theme between the two chapters of the stigmatization of addicts as a group of people as well, as in both chapters they were treated as group needing to be controlled by the government and outside medical forces, deemed incapable or undeserving in many situations to make their own treatment decisions. 

In both chapters of Addicts Who Survived, the format is similar in the method of the chapter is to open with an abstract discussing the subject matter and giving a brief history, as well as synopsizing what the conclusions will be from the chapter as a whole, then the rest of the chapter is filled by first hand accounts from the interviewees. I think that they are both very useful and I would not say that one is more useful than the other in general, I think that it depends on the context of what they are being used for. 

One question that I was left with after reading both chapters, was comparing the two, after thinking about Dr. S. Dana Hubbard and others who were highly critical of narcotic clinics and addicts in general, I wonder how they would have felt, or did feel, years later about methadone maintenance and whether Hubbard would have considered methadone a narcotic, evil and reinforcing the identity of the addict that he described, or whether he believed that methadone was permissible under the type of treatment that he described as ideal, wherein people would detox and then go to an open-air farm of sorts until they are fully able to return to the real world and be contributing members of society, drug free (294). 

The Club Kids of New York City

            “It was a great party, until drugs.”[i]

-Detective Ralph Gengo, NYPD (Ret.)

If you had been walking through New York City during the late spring months of 1996, or happened to pick up a copy of the Village Voice, you may have stumbled across a flyer with the image of a man on it, dressed all in white with a black harness, thick mustache and goatee, and striking, large white wings.[ii] The ad reads “MISSING: $4000 REWARD,” with two phone numbers listed below, desperate pleas for information from the brother of a man whose body would eventually be discovered after washing ashore on Staten Island.[iii]



Andre “Angel” Melendez was murdered by Michael Alig, “the King of the Club Kids” and Robert “Freeze” Riggs over a drug related dispute in March of 1996. After beating Angel with a hammer and suffocating him, the men would go on to pour Drano on his dead body, and eventually dismember his body, disposing of the pieces in the East River, all while on a major drug binge.[vi]

            The brutal murder of Angel Melendez and the subsequent arrest of Michael Alig, the face and leader of the Club Kid movement, solidly marked the end of an era for a group that had slowly been dissolving. New York City’s Club Kid movement began in the late 1980s, with early prominent figures in the scene such as RuPaul, Amanda LePore, James St. James and a man named Michael Alig, dubbed by many as the “original Club Kid” and “King of the Club Kids” for his transformative effect on the scene that sparked enormous growth and success.[vii] The year 1997 symbolically and literally marks the end of the Club Kid movement and scene for many, as it is the year that Alig and Riggs were convicted and sentenced to jail on manslaughter charges for the murder of Angel Melendez.[viii]

Focusing specifically on Michael Alig and by extension, the larger community of Club Kids who surrounded and in ways “followed” him, the life of Alig throughout his time in New York in the club scene can be measured in three distinct stages that are mirrored and dictated by his drug use at the time. The movement that began as an innocuous subversion of societal norms slowly morphed into something more dark and perverse, and this progression is directly correlated with the escalation in the level and types of drug and substance use and abuse within the club scene and by Alig specifically.

Stage 1: The Migration and Growth Period

            The Club Kid scene in New York City was a space that was inviting and appealing to the participants in the life, largely in part because of the queerness of the group as a rejection of mainstream society. I am using the term queerness here in the sense of a radical political rejection and complication of dominant understandings, in this case, one that encompasses sexuality but is not necessarily exclusively based on sexual orientation.[ix] The Club Kids were comprised of a large population of LGBTQ+ youth, with the remainder of the group being straight allies. A driving force behind the growth in the movement was the call that was felt by queer youth, and youth in general, to abandon their restrictive or repressive home lives and come to a place that they felt to be liberating. Michael Alig, for example moved to New York City from Southbend, Indiana in 1984, citing being bullied for being gay and boredom with the monotony of life in a small, predominantly straight rural town as motivations to leave.[x]  In the case of the Club Kids, New York City was both a physical destination and a symbol, representing freedom and community, a place where they belonged and could embrace their identities through the club scene. New York City and the origins of the Club Kid movement offered them aspects of chosen family and community, fun, and a means of creative and political expression.


The concept of chosen families are especially important for LGBTQ people because they can provide support in areas “unmet in other family connections”[xii] from biological families, which is directly represented in the action of many Club Kids moving from their hometowns across the United States to come to New York City. The desire for familial or kinship relationships and bonds outside of blood relationships served as a major motivation for many of the Club Kids to move, specifically within the context of not being accepted within heterosexist societies or blood relational families. Kinship based families or support systems were extremely important within the club system, specifically because of the young age demographic of the participants. This dynamic is very common within queer contexts, and is mirrored in the New York City house and ballroom culture scene in the 1980s, as is demonstrated in the documentary Paris is Burning. The house framework in ballroom culture is structured around the concept of the nuclear family and in ways abides by the family structure, while simultaneously subverting other aspects such as stereotypical gender roles, with house mothers being gay males, drag queens, or trans women.[xiii] Nevertheless, one of the most important elements of ball culture that was also found in the Club Kids scene was the centrality of community care and support.[xiv]

In 1987, the death of Andy Warhol marked the death of the nightlife generation of the seventies and eighties and created a “vacuum in nightlife” that would be filled by Michael Alig and his Club Kids.[xv] Alig partnered with a club owner named Rudolf Piper beginning in 1988, coming up with concepts and throwing parties at The Basement and The Tunnel, Piper’s clubs. During this time period in Alig and the Club Kids’ lives during the late eighties and beginning of the 1990s, the movement was pure and beginning to be successful, albeit not yet at its peak in terms of size or reputation. During this time, from 1988-1991 before the transition to the second phase in the timeline, there was minimal drug use in the clubs, with an emphasis rather on the importance of the message behind the movement and the importance of community. For example, the Club Kids frequently appeared on daytime television shows such as Geraldo, Joan Rivers, and the Phil Collins Show during the nineties, and when asked about drug use in the clubs, during the shows from the earlier years, the Club Kids who were panelists were adamant that drug use was not a significant part of the club scene and that many club kids were participating in the lifestyle without drinking alcohol or using drugs whatsoever.[xvi]

            Within close knit communities, people learn how and which drugs to use from those who they are surrounded by.[xvii] This phenomena of influence had the capacity to be specifically true for the Club Kids given the extremely young age demographic. Furthermore, their peers and group determined acceptability standards also dictate which drugs, methods, and behaviors are widely used within the scene, and which are considered violations of social norms.[xviii] In terms of the Club Kid scene, the three phases that I am describing are triggered and marked by changes in acceptability regarding types of drugs and frequency of drug use resulting in abuse.

In summary, during Stage 1, or the “the migration and growth period,” Michael Alig was described as never or rarely using drugs and infrequently using alcohol, even acting as if he was tipsy or high for the sake of exaggeration of his personality at club parties at times rather than partaking in substance use. His close friend James St. James and several others describe that initially Michael hated drugs and did not like the idea of the club scene being full of addicts, even going as far as to flush drugs down the toilet if he saw people using in the club.[xix] While not all of the Club Kids refrained from drug and alcohol use, during this period, there was not rampant use of drugs within the clubs. The desire to attend the clubs came from the other characteristics of the Club Kids, which included dressing up in outlandish outfits, staying out all night until the next day, and being able to express oneself freely through dance and freedom of personal behavior in the clubs.

Stage 2: The Golden Era

The event that sparked the shift separating stages one and two in the history of the Club Kids and Michael Alig was Alig’s move from working for Rudolf Piper at The Tunnel to partnering with club owner Peter Gatien and creating parties at the Limelight.[xx] Similar to the way in which during the 1930s and 1940s marijuana and heroin use were prevalent in jazz clubs and within the larger jazz community within Harlem in New York City,[xxi] the physical location and site of the opening of the Limelight club in particular was a key factor in the progression from the first stage of minimal drug use in the “migration and growth period” to the “golden era.” During the time period from approximately 1991-1994 the club scene was at its peak in terms of numbers of participants, popularity within the media and New York City, and the success of parties being thrown, and this was largely in part due to the location of the Limelight.

Michael Alig began working at the Limelight under Peter Gatien in 1989, but his parties did not begin to take off until the early nineties.[xxii] Alig realized the potential of the once dead Limelight and through his determination, transformed it into a home and haven for the Club Kids, hosting an outrageous weekly party called Disco 2000 for which the Club Kids are most known and remembered for. These parties were outrageous and boundary pushing, with provocative names like “Operation Emergency Room,”[xxiii] “The Pee Drinker,”[xxiv] and the notorious “Bloodfeast”[xxv] which many see as a premonition of the violence that Alig would display later in the murder of Angel Melendez.

During this time period, despite and arguably, in part because of the intense use of drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine, the Club Kids were able to solidify a reputation of being wild, unapologetic, and free to express themselves creatively. The popularity of the Club Kids during this time period, as was shown by the fascination with the scene by the outside world in terms of many daytime talk shows centering episodes around the phenomena of their lives as well as the popularity of the clubs in terms of numbers in the amount of successful parties held and people trying to attend, demonstrated that drug use itself was not the downfall of the Club Kids. During this period of heightened popularity and success of the Club Kids drug use was fairly regular, with stories of people snorting cocaine in the open on club dance floors and cocktails of vodka, champagne, and mushrooms being sold for $15 at Disco 2000 parties.[xxvi] Yet at this time, the drug use added to the atmosphere of the chaotic, exuberant, wild Club Kid atmosphere that they were trying to cultivate, and psychedelics and drug use allowed for the subversion of societal norms and expectations as well as for an expansion of creative power within the scene. However, as will be shown in Stage 3, it was when this drug use became unbridled that issues truly began to arise, marking a shift from drugs being taken to enhance the fun and creativity of the Club Kids movement, to falling into the darkness and addiction which ultimately resulted in death and harm for many, including Angel Melendez at the hands of Michael Alig and Robert Riggs.

Stage 3: The End of an Era

            I believe that the shift towards the end of the “golden era” of the Club Kids is marked by several events in a slow decline, beginning with a general trend of heavier drug use around 1994, most obviously the murder of Angel Melendez by Michael Alig and Freeze, and culminating in the arrests of Peter Gatien, which resulted in the short term closure of the Limelight in May of 1996, and Alig and Freeze in 1997, which resulted in the ultimate death of the scene .[xxvii] One of the signifying pitfalls of Alig was his use of heroin and essentially any drug that he could find. He became an addict, which was not incredibly common among Club Kids, or in club drug use in general. Sociologist Dina Perrone cites in her article “New York CIty Club Kids: A Contextual Understanding of Club Drug Use” that “addiction and dependence did not appear to be applicable to this population of users…”[xxviii] but rather that for many participants in New York city nightlife, drugs were merely a feature of the club experience that was then left at the door. The problem arose in the lives of the Club Kids when there was an overuse of drugs and there was no longer a separation of “club drugs” and using drugs while in the clubs to enhance the parties and experiences, but rather was a constant in their lives.

By around 1994, James St. James described the clubs as no longer having the exciting, high energy and exuberance that they had at their peak, with creative energy and ecstasy flowing, instead describing people overdosing, dying, and leaning against club walls in k-holes.[xxix] [xxx] From this point, the next strike against the Club Kids was the fall of the Limelight and Peter Gatien, who had given the scene a space to survive and thrive for so many years. Gatien was arrested in May of 1996 for drug racketeering and conspiracy to distribute narcotics, under the logic that he was not only aware of the drug use occurring in his clubs, but was also encouraging the bringing in of drug dealers in attempts to raise patronage and profits.[xxxi] While Gatien was eventually found not guilty of these crimes in 1998,[xxxii] the Limelight was closed for a considerable period during the trial, and even after the initial trial, the police and city continued to harass the Limelight and Gatien, essentially as a way to set an example and control this specific group and type of patrons.[xxxiii] Peter Gatien and in effect the Club Kids became targets under Rudy Giuliani’s administration and the “tough on crime” philosophy.

The combination of the increased use of drugs such as heroin, ketamine, crystal meth, etc. and also the increased hyper-criminalization of drugs and effectively club atmospheres under Rudy Giuliani resulted in major downfalls to the Club Kid scene, solidified by the final act of the arrest of their fearless leader, Michael Alig. By the point of Alig’s arrest, the club scene had taken many hits, and many members were also starting to age out and move on to better or different avenues, some realizing the sinking ship that they were on.

While the Club Kid scene effectively died in 1997 with the arrests of Riggs and Alig, the effects of the era can be felt in fashion, entertainment, art, nightlife, and even philanthropy to this day. There were and are several very successful Club Kids, including RuPaul, who has created and hosted several successful TV shows, won 2 Emmys, was one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” of 2017, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to name a few of his many accomplishments.[xxxiv] Walt Cassidy, formerly known as Waltpaper, a former Club Kid, is now living in Brooklyn, New York and is a very talented and successful photographer, sculptor, painter, designer, and jewelry maker. He also published a book this October featuring photographs and artwork from the Club Kid era.[xxxv] Richie Rich was a Club Kid who was notably drug free during the period and he went on to create the very popular fashion brand Heatherette which lasted until 2008, which was worn by many celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Nicole Richie, and Paris Hilton, and putting on several runway shows every year.[xxxvi] Jenny Dembrow, also known by her Club Kid alias of “Jennytalia,” once known as the underage queen of the scene, notorious for hiding her clubgoing from her parents, has since appeared as a model for Calvin Klein in Vogue and then retired from her short modeling career, got sober from her drug addiction, and now works at the Lower Eastside Girls Club, which she helped to found, which provides incredible services giving back to the community.[xxxvii]

These are just a few stories of Club Kids that have gone on to success, with many more also going on to have careers in the arts, entertainment, and nightlife industries, and others deciding instead to return to the mainstream stereotypical career and life paths. Others yet, like Michael Alig, went down deeper paths falling into addiction or dying before the death of the era. However, as dark as the story of Alig and Angel may be, the story of the Club Kids is not a dark narrative, it is largely light and energetic and queer and creative, demonstrating the power of a group of people to come together and create a space and movement for themselves separate from society, where they, the “others,” belonged. While it is indeed true that “it was a great party, until drugs.”[xxxviii] in a sense, in another way, drugs allowed the culture to grow and thrive, but only within a certain threshold, at which point, the Club Kid scene reached its demise.

[i] Ramon Fernandez, Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig, Film, Documentary (Osiris  Entertainment, 2016).

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Party Promoter At Night Spots Is Held in Death Of a Clubgoer – The New York Times,” accessed November 10, 2019,

[iv] Frank Owen, “A Murder in Clubland?,” The Village Voice, June 25, 1996, Vol. XLI No.26 edition.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Fernandez, Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Karl Whittington, “QUEER,” Studies in Iconography 33 (2012): 157–68, 158.

[x] Fernandez, Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig.

[xi] Fazakerley, Michael. n.d. Accessed December 4, 2019.

[xii] Anna Muraco, “Intentional Families: Fictive Kin Ties between Cross-Gender, Different Sexual Orientation Friends,” Journal of Marriage and Family 68, no. 5 (2006): 1313–25, 1320.

[xiii] Jennie Livingston, Paris Is Burning, Film, Documentary (Academy Entertainment, 1991).

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Fernandez, Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig.

[xvi] Goodman, Janet. “Michael Alig NYC Club Kids on Geraldo April 17, 1990.” Filmed [April 17, 1990]. Youtube video, 46:11. Posted [May 6, 2017].

[xvii] Dina Perrone, “New York CIty Club Kids: A Contextual Understanding of Club Drug Use,” in Drugs, Clubs and Young People Sociological Health Perspectives (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006), 26–49, 34., Howard S. Becker, “Drugs: What Are They?”

[xviii] Dina Perrone, “New York CIty Club Kids: A Contextual Understanding of Club Drug Use,” in Drugs, Clubs and Young People Sociological Health Perspectives (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006), 26–49, 34.

[xix] Fernandez, Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Eric C. Schneider, “Chapter 2: Jazz Joints and Junk,” in Smack: Heroin and the American City (Philadelphia, UNITED STATES: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

[xxii] Glory daze

[xxiii] she wore blue velvet, Disco 2000 Flyer Operation Emergencyroom, January 6, 2010, photo,

[xxiv] Armstrong, Stretch. Twitter Post. July 14, 2016, 8:35PM.

[xxv] “Bloodfeast Poster Disco 2000 Limelight Michael Alig Party Monster James St James | #294256490,” Worthpoint, accessed November 26, 2019,

[xxvi] Fernandez, Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig.

[xxvii] “U.S. Calls Clubs in Manhattan Drug Bazaars,” Daily News, May 16, 1996.

[xxviii] Dina Perrone, 48.

[xxix] Fernandez, Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig.

[xxx] A “k-hole” is defined by as the state where “your awareness of the world around you, and your control over your own body, become so profoundly impaired that you’re temporarily unable to interact with others—or the world around you.”

[xxxi] Joseph P. Fried, “Limelight Owner Is Acquitted After Long Fight in Drug Case,” The New York Times, February 12, 1998, sec. New York,

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Fernandez, Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig.

[xxxiv] “Bio – RuPaul Official Site,” accessed December 4, 2019,

[xxxv] “Biography,” WALT CASSIDY STUDIO, accessed December 4, 2019,

[xxxvi] Karmaloop TV. “Richie Rich of Heatherette| Nightclubs, Murdering Drug Dealers, & the Club Kid Days.” Youtube video, 05:54. Posted [March 14, 2008].

[xxxvii] “The Second Life of 90s Club Kid Jenny Dembrow | Standard Culture,” June 7, 2017,

[xxxviii] Ramon Fernandez, Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig, Film, Documentary (Osiris  Entertainment, 2016).

Race Relations and Social Locations: In the Opium Den and Smack Heroin

In In the Opium Den by Anthony W. Lee, the piece focuses first on the importance of the image that photographer Isaiah West Taber and painter Xavier Martinez captured of an opium den in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1901, and more broadly, the story behind the photo, detailing the intricacies of the racial dynamics, policing and criminality, and the culture of opium smoking. This article discusses the “why” behind the negative perception of opium smoking and thus the ensuing criminalization of opium in the United States. Smoking opium was characterized as a Chinese phenomena, and because of anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, this drug was deemed a particular threat to society by association. Lee describes the irony in that opium was viewed as a Western practice by those in China, yet in the United States, it was inextricably linked to the Chinese community and viewed as “exotic.” The mixed sense of fascination and repulsion with opium dens and smoking opium in Chinatown by non-Chinese people was seemingly bound in the colonialist mindset of the designation of Chinese culture as “oriental” (175) and thus the “other” or different from the West, which Lee discusses in the article. 

I would argue though, that if one was reading Lee’s piece without any other knowledge of opium smoking or drug use at the time, that they would most likely, and logically so, draw the conclusion that the only people who smoked opium during this time period were Chinese, with few exceptions, as the information presented in the article only focuses on the Chinese population. While the Chinese population did account for a large portion of users depending on the time period, this was also an inflated stereotype, and we know from other sources, such as Courtwright’s The Hidden Epidemic and Cooper’s Medical Theories of opiate addiction’s aetiology…, that other demographics heavily used opiates, specifically a large population of Southern whites, and it is important to highlight this fact as well as to make sure to not reinforce generalizations or misinformations about a group. 

This theme of racism and a racial group separated from the dominant culture through drug use can also be seen in the chapter “Jazz Joints and Junk” in Eric Schneider’s Smack Heroin and the American City, with a predominantly African American presence in the jazz scene in New York City during the time period, and therefore, involved with the culture of marijuana and heroin use. However, while the chapter does choose to include the information about the New York Academy of Medicine’s study of prisoners and their reactions to marijuana for example, I question why he then does not address the racial motivations behind the continued criminalization of marijuana even though the studies found that it was “of little medical concern; it was nonaddictive, and contrary to popular belief and official claims, it did not promote aggressive behavior.” (19). It is impossible to ignore the racial motivations behind the “war on drugs” (see the photo below) and I think that it would have been interesting and powerful for the author to draw this connection and speak more about it, as was done in In the Opium Den

Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930-1962, addressing Congress in support of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

To briefly return to In the Opium Den, this article suggests a way in which opium dens were used by the Chinese as a sort of cultural space which promoted an escape from the bounds of Western society and oppression. This sense of safety, relief, and culture effectively promoted the use of opium both within the Chinese population, and was seen as enticing to non-Chinese users, effectively fostering a pattern of drug use based on the promise of a certain experience. I found this to be very similar to the chapter “Jazz Joints and Junk” in Eric Schneider’s Smack Heroin and the American City, as Schneider also focuses on the importance of the role of physical and social settings in the creation of subcultures that promote the use of recreational substances, specifically in the case of marijuana and heroin use in the jazz scene in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s, and as a greater theme. The large part of the chapter is focused on descriptions of the community and inner workings of the dynamic of the jazz and bebop culture and how this fueled drug use and culture. Schneider describes the rejection of mainstream culture that jazz and bebop embraced and that by bonding as a central community, they were able to elevate their music with heroin, affirm that they were “cool,” and fans or starting musicians could aspire to be like their idols, many of whom did heroin.

In the video to the right, author Johann Hari speaks about the intense policing of Billie Holiday because of her heroin use, and he claims Harry Anslinger had a personal vendetta against her. I think that this clip is interesting because it reinforces the idea that people of color and areas with high populations of people of color are highly surveilled and policed, as was seen in this chapter from the fact that in Cregan’s studies for example, she “wanted to see if rumors of adolescent marijuana use, particularly among African American teenagers, were true.” (21). This mindset of entering into studies clouded by expectations of your results and focusing only on one group based at least partially on racial stereotypes calls into question the validity of the overall findings. Additionally, in the chapter, the policing of the jazz scene is described as essentially ineffective and the sense is that the musicians, fans, and other participants were able to create this vibrant subculture where marijuana, and later, heroin was easily available due to the centrality of Times Square and the many busy clubs on “swing street” and cafeterias where dealers would openly sell after the clubs closed. Seeing these two different accounts where Hari describes a more strict version of events and policing whereas Schneider describes the culture as being a “rejection of the square world” (28) and a seemingly free place removed from the bounds of mainstream society and order, including being able to avoid the law most of the time, leaves me to wonder which depiction is more accurate.  

In terms of In the Opium Den and Smack Heroin and the American City, I think that both pieces are helpful, and offer different information and contexts depending on what information someone is looking for. For example, “Jazz Joints and Junk” is more useful in providing information about the importance of a physical space and community for the development of a subculture which fosters drug use, as this was what the article was mainly focused on. As a secondary source piece it had interesting information about the medical research studies on prisoners in New York City, the analysis of the “thick description” (19) of Cregan’s investigation, as well as a lot of useful information about New York City in terms of the geography and locations of important sites, and perhaps most importantly, rich descriptions about the people from the time period and what it would have been like on a daily basis. In the Opium Den uses the primary source of a photograph to discuss how this picture helped to break down the assumptions surrounding opium dens. This piece also references drug history and theory to a degree and discusses the history of Chinese drug history in relation to the United States.