Category Archives: Responses

The Under-Drugs–Crack and Heroin

Despite the differences in the chemical compositions of both “crack” and “heroin,” the two drugs were lumped roughly into the same category of users and dangers. They were advertised as unclean, not only health-wise, but morally too, and were associated with lower-classes, and often times, minorities.

In this paper, I will use the following to demonstrate the similar views on “crack” and “heroin”—David Courtwright and Herman Joseph’s novel Addicts Who Survived: An Oral History of Narcotic Use in America 1923-1965, Caroline Jean Acker’s article titled “How Crack Found A Niche in the Ghetto: The Historical Epidemiology of Drug-Related Harm,” David Herzberg’s “Entitled to Addiction? Pharmaceuticals, Race, and America’s First Drug War,” and Matthew Lassiter’s “Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperatives of America’s War on Drugs.”

Crack and heroin were both associated with a lower class of people. Crack was typically used in the cities, while cocaine was used more commonly in suburban areas and was more expensive, hence why it was associated with a higher class than crack was. The media often blasted crack as causing deformities in babies, classifying these babies as “Crack Babies.” However, no word of “Cocaine Babies” was uttered in the media, despite both cocaine and crack causing the same amount of harm to babies when they were developing in the wombs. Crack was associated with minorities, especially African Americans, and images of African American mothers with deformed babies would commonly be in the media to reinforce this association of a specific race with crack in the public’s mind. As seen in David Musto’s novel The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control, there was also a rampant fear among whites of cocainized blacks, more so being African American men using crack, what one could call the poor man’s version of cocaine, and suddenly rampaging and assaulting the purity of white women, raping them, and getting retribution on white society. Keeping in mind this difference in class between crack and cocaine users, someone would have to have to five-hundred grams of powdered cocaine in order to get the same prison sentence as someone with just five grams of crack, as shown by Acker.

A juxtaposition of heroin and opium was made apparent in the readings, as well. Heroin was mainly found in minority neighborhoods within major port cities. Knowing that people looked down on those that used heroin instead of opium, Frieda, an eighty-one-year-old white woman addicted to narcotics, made a point of saying that she did not look down on those that used the needle—heroin—when she would smoke opium, the higher-class drug of sorts. In fact, she said she “never bothered with them” even, thinking that opium users were not like “the junkies in the street” using heroin (Courtwright and Joseph 82). In Herzberg’s “Entitled to Addiction? Pharmaceuticals, Race, and America’s First Drug War,” authorities saw users of heroin as “street-hustling urban junkies.” It appears that heroin was cheaper than opium, too, making sense as to why it was associated with a lower class of people. Drawing from Frieda’s story in Addicts Who Survived: An Oral History of Narcotic Use in America 1923-1965, opium became harder to afford compared to heroin in the 1930s. Just as cocaine was the “rich man’s drug” in the 1970s, opium, or as they refer to it in the reading— “hop” —was the “rich man’s drug” in the 1920s and a favorite of those “flush with cash” (Courtwright and Joseph 77). One can possibly see why heroin, since it was known to be easier to smuggle than opium, could be associated more with a lower form of criminal, dirtier, and more clandestine. According to Herzberg in “Entitled to Addiction? Pharmaceuticals, Race, and America’s First Drug War,” people would increasingly identify with being an outsider and even an outlaw when smuggling heroin, as opposed to opium. It is important to realize that opium was not always associated with higher class people, in fact it was a prime target in federal narcotic legislation and was seen as dirty and deplorable, associated with Chinese people, until tides had changed when heroin entered the picture in the American drug world. 

“Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperatives of America’s War on Drugs” reveals how former President Ronald Reagan and former First Wife Nancy Reagan framed both crack and heroin as the drugs killing the children of America, along with marijuana. With opium and morphine having the same chemical impact, morphine extract could be used to create heroin, similar to cocaine being transformed into crack. 

Crack was associated with lower-classes, namely African Americans, and heroin was associated with lower-class people, as well, and minorities. One should keep in mind through this comparison of crack and heroin in these various pieces of literature that it appears whichever drug was used by minorities was the under-drug, to make a spin-off of the term under-dog. 

When Drugs Come to Suburbia

Musician David Crosby, in a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, said, “‘It can’t happen here’ is number one on the list of famous last words.”1 While the topic at large in the question in no way related to drug use, the truthfulness of the quote transcends all aspects of our culture. When you start to think you are in some way insulated from an issue, chances are good that you are not. In the second half of the 20th century in the United States, recreational drug use of narcotics like marijuana and heroin found their way out of poor, urban areas and into the upstanding, usually white, suburban areas. The portrayal of drug use in suburbia as dealing irreversible harm to the future generation was instrumental in causing a backlash which saw harsher drug penalties and a growth in the incarceration rate. Though this is hard to argue, two different texts we’ve recently read attempted to craft two alternative narratives to get there.

As detailed in Emily Dufton’s 2017 book Grass Roots, the history of the legal standing of marijuana in this country was heavily influenced by individuals on both sides of the spectrum, for legalization and against it, who molded their own movements to fight for their beliefs. One of the most powerful forces in the lobbying effort against the legalization of the drug were parents who were terrified of the damage it was doing to their children. Specifically, in the chapter “Atlanta, 1976”, the parent movement found its roots right by Emory with a mother in Druid Hills in the 1970s. This section of the story tells of Marsha Schuchard, a longtime liberal Democrat and defender of civil rights, who after stumbling upon a party in which her teenage daughter was exposed to marijuana, rallied fellow parents around her cause in opposition to the drug. Schuhard argued that “parents had every right to question marijuana’s long-term effects on children’s bodies,” and should “be skeptical of state and federal decriminalization” that was happening.2 The parents movement was a vital mechanism in harming the campaign to tolerate marijuana usage, beginning not because of any prior moral objection, but because it had punctured their seemingly impenetrable suburban community. 

Matthew D. Lassiter, in his 2015 journal article “Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperatives of America’s War on Drugs”, contends that “the political and cultural construction of the white middle-class victim operated…to sustain the war on drugs and expand the American carceral state.”3 Whereas Dufton took an anecdotal example of a leading figure in the movement and detailed how her worldview was impacted, Lassiter takes a much more hardheaded approach to the subject matter, looking at it through the lens of race. Basically, his point is that pushback to drug decriminalization doesn’t just begin when kids are being exposed to them, it only starts when kids of a certain skin color are. He too uses a real life example in the spread of heroin through a mostly-white neighborhood in Plano, Texas, but then discusses in depth how the US government at different points during the latter half of the 20th century has pushed for harsher anti-drug measures directly because of how the specific narcotics have caused disorder in wealthy white areas. Although the goal was to combat usage in those areas, it has had an outsized impact on strong minority areas, creating a racial divide in the prison system currently.

These two pieces take different angles of looking at the same problem: how change in drug policy is catalyzed by chaos in suburban areas. When taken as a whole, Dufton’s book is a much more effective way of conveying information as it is easier to connect with personal stories, but this chapter in particular does not live up to the sections surrounding it. Personally, while I can understand a parent wanting what’s best for their kid, I found it hard to get over the fact that at the same party which triggered this revolt, the underaged minors were drinking “bottles of malt liquor.”4 Her own daughter was only 13 at the time, yet the elder Schuhard completely ignored the alcohol instead focusing on demonizing marijuana. She then went on to do copious research on the dangers of pot all the while disregarding the other, possibly more harmful, substance. Each author is trying to make the point about the effect of drugs in suburbia on the real world, both trying to gain sympathy on the issue. This is one of the rare instances where it is easier to connect with a more reserved investigation of the problem because it bypasses innate human flaws that make you question Schuchard’s true motivation.

1) Ben Fong-Torres, “David Crosby: The Rolling Stone Interview,” Rolling Stone, July 23, 1970,
2) Emily Dufton, Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall of Marijuana in America (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2017), 91-92.
3) Matthew D. Lassiter, “Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperatives of America’s War on Drugs,” The Journal of American History 102, no. 1 (June 2015), 140.
4) Dufton, Grass Roots, 89.

5) Lassiter, 131.

The Marijuana Complex and the Current Regulatory Complex: A look at Cannabis through American History

I was interested in David Courtwright’s Forces of Habit: The Little Three because it does an excellent job of tracking cannabis use, generally, in America up until the late 1970s. Conveniently, Emily Dufton’s Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America chronicles the history of cannabis from the decriminalization efforts in the 1970s up until the legalization of cannabis in Colorado and Washington State in 2014. Starting in the early 1900s, Courtwright follows the spread of cannabis into America through Mexican laborers. While cannabis was used prior for naval rigging, the introduction by the laborers marks a shift in the primary purpose of the plant and thus, Courtwright dubs this, the Marijuana Complex, a play on the Indian Ganja Complex. Cigarettes normalized smoking in America, and with cheap prices, “reefers” spread throughout jazz clubs throughout the roaring twenties and no longer was restricted to immigrant laborers.

Following the world wars (and the illegalization of marijuana in 1934’s Marihuana Tax Act), and the subsequent population spike, cannabis consumption too spiked, and grew out of early beat movements to mesh later with the hippies and their resentment of the Vietnam War. From there, Courtwright leaves it and Dufton begins. She begins by portraying the decriminalization movement through organizations like Amorphia and NORML, two completely different groups methodically, but sharing the same goal. With some progress at the state level in decriminalization, and a friendly ear in the Carter Administration, national decriminalization seemed imminent. However, the election of Reagan in 1980 swiftly reversed all progress and ushered in an era of absolute abstinence backed by various parent groups across the country. Attempting to escape the vitriol of parent groups and the administration that largely targeted the propagation of underage use through a largely unregulated paraphernalia market, NORML shifted its efforts to highlight the medical benefits of cannabis. By proving it’s worth in treatments for Glaucoma and Epilepsy and its therapeutic effects in easing the symptoms of HIV, little by little prohibition was cracked, and California enacted the first medical marijuana law in 1996. Later, by focusing on tax revenues and other social benefits, while stressing the regulations that would prevent underage use while simultaneously undercutting the black market, Colorado and Washington were pioneers in legalizing recreational use for adults and fully legitimizing the Marijuana Complex.

As a consequence of the differing time periods, Courtright had more secondary sources and was only able to include an Army members personal anecdote of the effects of Marijuana. On the other hand, Dufton, in working on a much more modern timepiece had the luxury of many more direct quotes, and even was able to reach the people in her book for contemporary input on their previous experiences. I think both are valuable, as Courtwright illuminates a wide swath of American History that provides excellent background to the more narrow intensive focus of Dufton. While Courtwright did provide excellent context to the rise of marijuana in America, I thought a shortcoming was the failure to mention the legal status of marijuana. Courtwright touches on the duality of cannabis in its commercial uses for fiber and seed, and its use recreationally by Mexican immigrants but never touches on the surrounding public opinion that led to the criminalization in 1934’s Marihuana Tax Act. While growth was simultaneously being promoted by the US government for rigging for ships for the war effort, the same plant was vilified and outlawed for consumption. I think a big missed opportunity was in his example of Mezz Mezzrow and his selling of reefers on the street for jazz clubs. At the beginning of his selling career in the 1930’s it was perfectly legal, and was a part of a thriving jazz club scene in New York City. However, just 4 years later in 1934, Mezz Mezzrow is considered a criminal and is eventually arrested in 1940 for sixty reefers for possession with the intent to distribute. Overall, I think Courtwright missed a great opportunity to juxtapose pre and post marijuana criminalization, just as Dufton did with pre and post decriminalization and legalization.

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. 

Motivations for Drug Control in pre-World War I America

By: Garrett Canterbury

Believe it or not, the use, possession, transportation, and consumption of drugs were all once legal in America. However, over time, economic interests, racism, and moralistic motivators all combined to start the era of American narcotic control. In his book The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control, David Musto examines these motivators and factors that transformed America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Narcotic regulation started at the state and local levels in order to curb growing addiction rates (primarily of cocaine and opium). He writes, “State and municipal laws generally required cocaine or morphine to be ordered on a physician’s prescription, which then had to be retained for perhaps a year for inspection. The laws had one great loophole: the patent medicine manufacturers repeatedly obtained exemptions for certain quantities of narcotics in proprietary medicines (Musto 9). Even in the early 1900s, states and localities, before the federal government, recognized and attempted to combat iatrogenic narcotic addiction and abuse—a scenario that has repeated itself multiple times in more modern American history (SEE opioid crisis of 21st century).

Some of the primary motivators for the federal Harrison Narcotic Tax Act of 1914 and others of the era was just that—tax. With imperial America rising on the world stage and a World War looming, America needed cash to beef up its military and foreign influence abilities and to spur its economy at home.

On a more subliminal level, however, these narcotic controls were motivated by race, especially stemming from the Jim Crow south. As Musto writes, “If cocaine was a spur to violence against whites in the South, as was generally believed by whites, then reaction against its users made sense. The fear of the cocainized black coincided with the peak of lynchings, legal segregation, and voting laws all designed to remove political and social power from him” (Musto 7).  

Another minority group targeted by narcotic control—albeit for a different drug—were the Chinese. In his analysis of the Chinese opium dens, Anthony Lee notes that “While the existence of opium dens was common knowledge—newspapers wrote about them, city ordinances targeted them, medical investigators tried to have them shut down, tourists and flâneurs sought them out as leisure distractions, illustrators brought forth a slew of images of them—they were not so easily entered as in previous decades” (Lee 1). Drawing on a largely staged photograph of a Mexican-American pretending to be a Chinese man smoking opium, Lee characterizes the Chinese opium den as located in a sort of cultural purgatory—not embraced by native Chinese and certainly disliked by the average American. As a result, legislation like the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914 and the ban on opium smoking in 1909 served to quell the prevalence of these opium dens.

One final source that supports the claim that regulation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries actually mitigated usage is the graph on page nine of Rorabaugh’s The Alcoholic Republic (reprinted below). From the graph it is clear that the annual consumption of alcohol decreased abruptly and dramatically after the ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919. When the 18th was repealed by the 21st in 1933, we see a spike in alcohol consumption, which eventually surpasses pre-prohibition levels. Thus, it is fair to conclude that the temperance movement and prohibition (aka government regulation) were the chief factors in precipitating this decline, and with the threat of legal punishment rescinded, consumption rates returned to and eclipsed “normal.”

Online Source Here

As sources, Musto’s 300-page comprehensive book, Rorabaugh’s book, and Lee’s short paper are decidedly different: Musto and draws on a variety of primary, secondary, and tertiary historical sources (as evidenced by his notes section), Rorabaugh takes more of a data-driven approach, while Lee critically contextualizes the primary source photograph. All three sources, however, draw some of the same conclusions: government regulations, while sometimes effective, carry social costs and unintended consequences that must (or at least should) be weighed before legislation is enacted—legislation that may or may not be effective. As Lee puts it “No amount of prodding could push the [opium] smoker out of his or her dream; no amount of legal hectoring seemed to deter him or her from pursuing it” (Lee 4).  

It is worth noting one important fact: it is entirely unknown how the history of America would have changed without these pieces of legislation, if at all. For better or for worse, America transitioned from a pseudo-libertarian outlook on drugs and alcohol into an era where virtually everything was at one time outlawed and public support for federal control was at an all-time high (SEE 18th Amendment). America’s pendulum of control continues to swing back and forth today: from the dichotomy of marijuana legalization/decriminalization to the crackdown on tobacco vapes, the era of modern substance control can learn a lot from its sister period nearly a century ago.  

What About Black Women?

In The Alcoholic Republic, W.J. Rorabaugh focuses Chapter 1 “A Nation of Drunkards” on whether Americans were really “drunkards” in the nineteenth century (Rorabaugh 5). Intemperance seemed to be growing in America much more than in any European nation, which European visitors vouch for. However, Dalton felt the term “tippler” was more appropriate than “drunkards” because public drunkenness was not common (Rorabaugh 6). Neilson also pointed out that though Americans were heavy drinkers, they developed a higher tolerance to support this, so they were not often very intoxicated. Rorabaugh drew on surveys to make his point, showing the annual consumption of distilled spirits and other alcoholic beverages from 1720-1970. In comparison to other nations, the surveys showed that Americans did not drink the most. It was about the same as Scots or French, and less than Swedes (Rorabaugh 10).

Women were discouraged from drinking alcohol, unless it was for medicinal purposes. Enslaved Southerners did not drink much either as set by the law. White males did most of the drinking. Men began drinking as toddlers, and adolescents drank in public to show  a transition to manhood, which was praised throughout all social and occupational groups (Rorabaugh 14). Men had lots of access to alcohol; there was even a bar on the gentlemen’s side of the steamboats, placed in a way to discourage women from drinking (Rorabaugh 18).

The drinking habit of white men, women, children, and even enslaved Southerners are mentioned in this chapter, but black women are never explicitly mentioned, which left me wondering “What about black women?” Some women did drink recreationally, but Rorabaugh says the topic was too “delicate to discuss” (Rorabaugh 12). Emily A. Remus took on that challenge.

In “Tippling Ladies and the Making of Consumer Culture,” Emily A. Remus discusses how women in Chicago gained more autonomy over themselves in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and more specifically, over their drinking habits. Unlike Rorabaugh, who relies on surveys which leave a lot of room for bias and misinformation, Remus draws on secondary sources like academic articles and books, as well as primary sources like newspaper articles. Though newspaper articles may be biased, they provide a good depiction of what people really thought at the time.

Remus focuses on the growth in drinking options and rise of establishments catered to women, challenging the notion that women should not drink in public. Similar to men who, Rorabaugh stated, had steamboat drinking sections, women had separate quarters for when they were not escorted by men, though men were not excluded to the extent that women were from men’s quarters. Remus repeats like Rorabaugh that women mostly drank in private and for medicinal reasons. She adds that drinking medicinally was disapproved by reformers, but public drinking was more serious. If women drank, they were not just drinking in public; they were “public women,” meaning their bodies were for sale (Remus 752). Unlike critics in The American Republic, Reverend Hopkins thought these women were the ones becoming “drunkards” in public (Remus 751). They were known not just as tipplers, but as “women tipplers” and “lady tipplers” (Remus 751).

On the other hand, Women’s clubs were associated with more than drinking, like public service and political involvement. Women began fighting for “social equality between the sexes” (Remus 774). However, they were not fighting for equality between the races. Money was not the only requirement for women to drink publicly; race was another. African American women were often denied service, and any legal actions against the establishments were generally failures (Remus 761). White women were only fighting for white women.

There was social mixing among different classes when drinking, but not races. Monied women is defined as women with disposable income and leisure time, who were both wives and daughters of professionals (Remus 754). Clergymen felt that women were at the club forgetting their “babies and homes” (Remus 772). How could women back then have leisure time when they were wives that had to take care of their “babies and homes?” How could they have had the time to “find fulfillment outside their roles as wives and mothers” (Remus 776)?

Black women were completely erased from the situation in The Alcoholic Republic, and only briefly mentioned in “Tippling Ladies” to state that they were not allowed to drink in public establishments. So, where were they? Around this time, it was very common for black women to care for white children, fulfilling the “mammy” stereotype. There is no room in the “mammy” stereotype for drinking, nor did they have “disposable income” or “leisure time.” While white women were rejecting Victorian standards and fighting for other women, Black women were erased as women as they cared for the white women’s children.

Scientific frameworks that explain high rates of addiction in South

Opiate use in the United States was a huge problem around the beginning of the 20th century that spawned many political policies to combat this. The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate Addiction and Cocaine Use in the South by David Courtwright highlights the prevalence of opium addiction among the dominant demographic as well as several reasons for the higher addiction rate in the south. Similarly, Hannah Cooper’s Medical theories of opiate addiction’s etiology and their relationship to addicts’ perceived social position in the United States provide a more scientific explanation for addiction across several different time periods, most importantly 1880-1920, that go in tandem with Courtwright’s practical explanations of addiction in the south.

Cooper sampled 297 physicians’ articles from the U.S National Library of Medicine across two different time periods,1880–1920 and 1955–1975. Her analysis used serval frameworks such as the “social construction of knowledge” which “maintains that all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is socially produced and thus reflects the contexts, concerns, limitations” of the people living during that period (Cooper 437). Another integral framework used for her analysis was the critical race theory which highlights “the processes through which inequitable racial/ethnic relations are produced, maintained and contested(Cooper 437). This theory also suggests that the dominant racial groups of the society will continue to perpetuate these inequitable relations for their own personal gain. 

Her article begins by making a claim that “drug-related laws and policies in the US have frequently contributed to the establishment and perpetuation of inequitable social relations” (Cooper 436), meaning that these policies are not universal but instead are tailored benefit the dominant demographic which in the 1880-1920 time period, were mainly affluent white people then shifted to poor working-class whites. From 1880-1894 opium users were found in “higher and more cultivated classes” that is, the upper class which included affluent white women, physicians, and literary intellectual males (Cooper 437). The homogeneity of this class of opiate users was seldom seen in a negative light mainly due to the ease and legality (from physicians) in which they obtained these drugs. Opium in this time period wasn’t seen as a highly addictive and harmful drug but rather a necessary and powerful medicine that had the ability to treat the many ailments of this time. Consequently, the prevalence of addiction was seen as a “devastating sequela of a necessary medical treatment”(Cooper 438). As a result, physicians’ records regarding opium addiction during this time utilized the coping and medicinal theory. The coping theory refers to self-medication as a means of reducing stress and in this case, opium use was in response to the emerging stressors and “rigors of living in—and often creating—a modern civilized society” (Cooper 438). The characteristics of these theories, especially the fact that they saw addiction as curable during this time lead me to the conclusion that addiction during wasn’t regarded as a problem with a lot of gravity but rather the side effects of the affluent life.

In the subsequent time period, 1895-1920, there was a shift in the main demographics of opiate users from affluent whites to poor and working-class whites although the upper class still continued to use opiates. During this time period, two new theories were developed to characterize this emerging demographic of addicts. First, there was the “innate degeneracy theory” which posited an innate disposition for addiction and was a non-curable form of addiction that was inherited from the parents. The vice theory then stated that people used opiates for personal reasons which subsequently made this form of addiction curable. Going by classes, the middle or working class that consisted of poor whites were often diagnosed using either the innate degeneracy or the vice theory as they were seen as “congenitally inferior and [had] a biological tendency to degeneracy that predated their addiction” (Cooper 439). Due to this perception and social class, their addiction was seen as a part of them, it was something they depended to complete daily tasks rather than something to cope with daily life, which in the eyes of the upper class made them incapable of contributing to society. Contrastingly, affluent white addicts were rarely diagnosed using these theories but mainly through medicinal and coping theories which in turn validated their addiction in the sense that society and its demands are at its roots.

 Courtwright’s article provides more practical examples and theories for the higher rate of addiction in the south mainly through the use of clinic records, pharmacy reports, and state records. He posits that the south’s higher rate of addiction was due to widespread diseases such as “diarrhea, dysentery, and malaria” which was easily treated by opium, therefore, it was prescribed at a higher rate by physicians in the south. This falls in line with the medicinal theory used in Cooper’s article as the origins of addiction for some came from the physicians the sought out for help. These high rates of opium use were hidden by “exaggerated fears of black cocaine rampages” that was used by Hamilton Wright to secure support for his anti-narcotic legislation.

Before the Civil War, the socioeconomic status of most southern whites was drastically different than after. The south suffered a lot more casualties than the north which created a shift in the socioeconomic status of the users that resulted in affluent white men and women being “impoverished by the rebellion” and having to resort to “eating and drinking opium to drown their sorrows” (Courtwright 66). This provides a practical example of the coping theory presented in Cooper’s paper and in this case opium was used to drown out the depression associated with the south’s defeat in the Civil War as well as sooth many of the physical injuries. Another interesting overlap between these two readings came from the Harrison’s Act of 1914 which was a law that regulated the distribution of opium and coca products through taxation but failed to help actual addicted patients, as a result, they resorted to the illicit market for cheaper opium. 

These two articles have a lot of overlap in the sense that Courtwright’s account of southern opiate use is explained, more scientifically by Cooper’s framework of analysis. For example, Courtwright states that one way people become addicted was by originally being introduced to the opiates by their doctors which is just an example of how the medicinal theory of addiction works. Although Courtwright’s article used statistics that were underestimated due to the fact that most addicts generally wanted to remain anonymous, they do display an overall trend worth exploring. Together these articles provide vivid examples and illustrate the path to addiction

Root Causes: The ‘Why’ Behind American Opium Use

The saying goes, to err is human. It is a comforting reminder that everyone makes mistakes, that regardless of how catastrophic an incident may seem, you are not alone in your situation. I would posit a corollary to this statement, that not only is it human to screw up, it is human to struggle. No matter how successful you are or how perfect your life might seem, no one goes through this life without experiencing difficulty in some form or another. Throughout the course of American society, many have struggled with drug use in particular. At the turn of the 20th century, the drug of choice amongst poor, working class, young Americans was opium, specifically in a form for smoked as compared to either heroin or morphine.

The main historical questions when it comes to this topic is examining how someone got addicted to opium in the first place. During the 1980s, historian David Courtwright tried to answer this question from a variety of angles. In a 1983 journal article entitled “The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate Addiction and Cocaine Use in the South, 1860-1920” he tried to piece together what possible root causes were of the drug use in the second half of the eponymous time period. To call something an epidemic implies that the problem was not concentrated but rather widespread, and thus to back up his titular claim, Courtwright examines records from narcotic clinics and pharmacies to show opium addiction was prevalent throughout the country and overwhelming in the South. While written records such as these can be a gold mine for historians like Courtwright, they aren’t able to tell the full story. That is likely why, in 1989, Courtwright along with two other historians Herman Joseph and Don Des Jarlais went directly to the source: interviewing those who had been afflicted with opium addiction at the time to understand the human side to the issue in their book Addicts Who Survived. The participants transcended race, gender, and birthplace, offering tremendous insight into the issue at large from different points of view. Although his initial work may give a greater understanding of the problem, the personal touch of the interviews present a more poignant and unique look into how regular people struggled with opium use.

In his article, Courtwright offers three ideas which he believes contributed most to the spread of opium throughout the country. The main reason, he hypothesizes, is linked directly to medical professionals overprescribing the drug to treat everything from asthma to dysentery. This also led to a trickle down effect where sick individuals were self-treating with opium, leading to the claim that the best way to avoid opium was to not get sick, something much easier said than done. He finally talks about how, specifically in the South, soldiers from the Civil War relied on it as a way of easing the pain from their defeat. However, as the interviews from his following book show, there were numerous other possible triggers. Frieda, the oldest of the people interviewed told of how she got started on opium from going to parties where a pipe was passed around. Another interviewee named Mel represented a prototypical example of marijuana as a gateway drug, smoking constantly before turning to the “hard stuff”. While these discrepancies may be due to time, the book focusing on the 1920s while the article still talks about the 19th century, or place, the Northern metropolis of New York versus the Southern United States, it also represents a major underlying distinction between the two accounts. That is, historical explanations can tend to generalize as a way of distilling the information and thus leaving out possible other motives that can be obtained through means like interviews. Along the same lines, one major critique I had on Courtwright’s article was the wide time frame he uses. 1860 to 1920 may only be six decades, but there were so many major events during that time frame that caused shifts in the mindset and demographics of opium users, that it likely would have been more prudent to focus in on a narrower window to glean a deeper understanding of drug use in the postbellum South.

Perhaps one of the drawbacks of interviews is the problem of a convenience sample, that is having to rely solely on people who are willing to participate. As the introduction to the chapter points out, these narratives focused more on griping about how hard it became to get opium as time progressed rather than them resenting the drug for their addiction. I wonder if in other parts of the book there are actual narratives of struggle, of those trying to rid themselves of the dependency, in order to provide more complete look into the effects of opium. Either way, the best way to grasp a problem is to get up close and personal with it, something that we can do contemporaneously thanks to texts such as this one.

Turn of the Century:Tippling Ladies and Hop

Tippling Ladies was an interesting journal piece that documented and deliberated on the emergence of women in drinking establishments at the turn of the century in Chicago. It presented women as the new consumer, established by the new affluence afforded by the industrial revolution. This new woman shopped in cafes, soda shops, drugstores, and department stores, all catering to the new market that opened up by providing fruity, sweeter drinks instead of beer or hard alcohol preferred by men.  However, this all hinged upon the economic class and race of these women, as African American women were excluded no matter the price, and poorer women were forced to turn elsewhere for their drinks. With price being so high, and cultural norms holding most women back, immigrants who struck it rich were usually the first women to drink in public. Temperance advocates, ranging from women not wanting to shake the system to male religious evangelicals fought back, as their way of traditional life started to crumble. Ultimately, by the 1910s, women drinking in public was no longer the issue it once ignited. 

            Hop was a chapter in a book entitled Addicts Who Survived and caught my interest because it was a compilation of firsthand accounts of addicts of narcotics and their life stories. It had 6 people in this chapter; notably, Mel, an African American, Al and Emily, a married couple, Lao Pai-Hsing, a Hong Konger, and Frieda, who was the only one still in good health. Most stories held a common theme of people leaving home young while being poorly educated or uneducated, and moving to a large city. Many picked up a day job, and were exposed to narcotics first through opium smoking, usually at parties. In time, however, many people moved to heroin as the price and availability of opium dropped. In these accounts it happened to be more who you know than what you know, as heritages formed mafias in New York that slowly controlled and monopolised the opium and heroin trade.

            I chose these two articles specifically because they are set around the same time, in big cities, yet have two different account sources- primary for Hop, but secondary for Tippling Ladies. Tippling ladies and Hop both talk extensively about the classism and racism that shaped their drug uses at around the same time, with Tippling Ladies barring African American women from drinking, and with opium dens assorting based on ethnicity in Hop, but the forces driving them are slightly different. Alcohol, being a legal drug, allowed an interesting influx of capitalism into the drug trade that led corporations to profit hugely and discriminate their patrons freely. Department stores, rich and lavish, with coffers full of alcohol sales from women, could afford to segregate their drinking rooms. On the other hand, in Hop, the narcotics trade was run illegally, underground, free from corporations, where smokers voluntarily sorted between Chinese and Non-Chinese, or even occasionally mixed. Opium too, was not as prohibitively expensive as an afternoon out in Tippling ladies, and was therefore able to spread much easier through all classes, not just the upper elites. This is really driven home in Hop through the interviews when you see all walks of life sucked into addiction, something impossible to happen in drugstores and department stores of Chicago. Furthermore, it is interesting to see the differing views on immigrants in the time. In Tippling Ladies, German, Swedish, and Danish women of the upper elites were heralded (mostly) for their role in expanding the woman’s role in drinking from just holidays and traditions to a normal daily affair. In Hop, the Chinese were largely excluded, as Lao Pai-Hsing said about smoke houses, “They were for Chinese people only; we didn’t trust white people”, even though they introduced the drug. The Italians instead, got all the spotlight, though they were famous for the wrong reasons with Al and Emily recalling the violence and extortion of donskis like Lucky Luciano.             While Tippling Ladies shows the emergence of the new women drinkers as well as the backlash from temperance and evangelical opposition, Hop only accounts for one side of the story. Though the book is explicitly on addicts who survived to tell the tale, I think firsthand accounts from law enforcement or larger dealers would reveal a great deal about the workings of the supply side to the addicts, and would provide a great counterbalance to the demand side stories and accounts put forth by the addicts.

The Faces Of Addiction

Courtwrite explores how race affects what drugs were used and who was able to access treatment in the Postbellum South in, “The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate Addiction and Cocaine Use in the South, 1860-1920.” Courtwrite relays that though upper class southerners had the highest rate of addiction to opiates, through social stigma, they were coerced into hiding it causing the epidemic to be largely hidden. On the other hand, upper class white addicts were exorbitantly overrepresented while black addicts were underrepresented due to access to treatment. What created this disparity, let alone the influx of narcotic use to begin with? Courtwrite provides examples of the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914, overprescription, and the civil war. 

The Harrison Narcotic Act was designed to regulate the sale and distribution of narcotics. In 1919, it was declared that physicians were not to maintain patients with addictions causing people to turn to the black market looking for the same high. Subsequently, municipalities were set up to provide addicts with clean drugs and rehabilitation but these municipal centers were mostly catered towards white people with means, leading to overrepresentation of white addicts in statistical data. For example, in Jacksonville Florida, white people made up about ¾ of the addict population but made up less than half of the total population. 

Overprescription was a gargantuan factor in the addiction epidemic mainly due to shallow knowledge of diseases bolstering the idea that narcotics were the cure-all, introducing people to the drug eventually leading to addiction. Because black southerners likely did not have access to adequate healthcare, their oppression was an ironic aid in preventing exposure to addiction. Black southerners, on the other hand tended towards cocaine which, in part, was due to the civil war. First off, the civil war left the south with more physical and mental health casualties per capita than the north fostering optimal grounds for narcotic dependence, especially among the planter elite. 

Pertaining to the southern black population, the war gave them a reason rejoice rather than wallow, thus, cocaine tended to be their drug of choice. Besides the civil war, cocaine provided them with the energy needed to endure intense bouts of labor. The drug soon spread from plantations to railroad work camps which lead people to devise that cocaine usage was a largely black problem creating a crime wave conspiracy among the south. Ultimately, due to the racially supercharged climate in the south, it would only take a few episodes of black on white “cocaine driven” crime to cause speculation. The conspiracy was largely due to white fear rather than the reality of the effects of cocaine, subsequently detracting attention from the rising, white opiate addiction. 

This writing was effective due to his use of primary sources addressing the addiction rates in the south versus the north, and what types of drugs used and by whom. Courtwrite also gives reasoning for why the data may be false, like his explanation for the overrepresentation of white addicts in the south. He also references other historians such as David Musto to add depth and nuance to his argument. 

In Courtright and Herman’s, Addicts Who Survived, interviews were the main source of evidence for his arguments unlike statistical data in the latter reading. Courtwrite gives context on the opium craze of the 1920’s. Though opium was originally associated with “low class” Chinese and a white “underbelly” it quickly became a “rich man’s drug,” similar to cocaine use in the 1970’s. It was only after restrictive opium laws were passed that many transitioned to heroin and morphine. After the Harrison Act, however, Chinese and upper class whites remained fans of opium. In the 1930’s and 40’s “hop” became harder to obtain due in part to Italian suppliers gaining control of narcotic traffic, preferring to import heroin as it was much cheaper. This was the time period when interviewees were becoming hooked on hop. 

Lotty, for example, was from a lower class laborer family growing up with little formal education. Eventually, her poverty led her to leave home, travel to the city, and try show-business. Her show business crowd always had ample drugs during parties, notorious among creative professionals. She was simply lured in due to the euphoric feeling. Freida, another interviewee, started smoking after her husband’s divorce then started making her own pills and using every night until she realized she was hooked. She speaks upon the “toy like” quality of the opium causing her to feel like she was playing a game while using the drugs. It became a social activity for her as she would smoke with the same group of people every night at the same time. This became an expensive ritual for her and soon she wasn’t able to afford the opium causing her to transition to skin popping heroin. She used every single day during her second marriage which eventually ended in his suicide causing her to seek out daluadid prescriptions from doctors and needles from druggists in the Bronx. 

Freida was one of the oldest methadone patients out of the interviewees and though she claims she is happy living the rest of her life on methadone and playing the lottery, her story parallels Lotty in that they both came from situations of hardship. At the same time, in Addicts Who Survived, the idea that addiction affects everyone is exemplified throughout the reading. The idea that addiction does not have one face is bolstered by the diversity of the interviewees. 

Though both readings employ very different sources, they were both primary, and have to be analyzed critically. The statistics from the latter reading contained questionable data (i.e. the overrepresentation of white opiate addicts compared to black), and the interviews can’t be taken at face value either because it is someone’s personal account of what happened in which truth can be easily skewed and events muddied. Furthermore, both readings show differing dynamics between white and minority addiction experiences like misrepresentation for black addicts in the south, and derogatory associations with Chinese opium addicts in the 1930’s. The readings exemplify the idea that primary sources can be effective evidence but one must look critically at the validity of the sources to consider alternative truths.