Suburban Whites and The War on Drugs

The contemporary “War on Drugs” dates back to attitudes developed in the 1950s and is reflected today in alarming statistics that place African Americans in the United states as 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. In Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperatives of America’s War on Drugs by Matthew D. Lassiter tracks the evolution of the victimization of the white middle-class through different movements that brought suburban drug use into the national consciousness and resulted in efforts to demonize minority populations perceived to be responsible. In Grass Roots, Emily Dufton discusses the rise of the grassroots parent movement during the Carter administration, its subsequent invigoration during the Raegan administration and its success in lobbying against the decriminalization of marijuana by refocusing the conversation about marijuana on suburban youth. Both sources shed light on how conversations about the criminalization of drugs in America reflect underlying efforts to preserve the social dominance of affluent whites.

In Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperatives of America’s War on Drugs, Matthew D. Lassiter describes the national outrage in response to reports of heroin usage amongst the teenage children of white suburban elite. He opens with the case of the Dallas suburb of Plano, in which 14 high schoolers died in the late 20th century from heroin overdoses. Lassiter effectively sets the stage for his argument when he explains the consequences of these horrifying deaths: of the 29 individuals found responsible, the 16 local white teenagers received probation and minimal jail time while a handful of Mexican’s were given mandatory-minimum sentences of 20 years to life. He goes on to identify how, since the 1950s, the war on drugs has been constructed through the framework of a suburban crisis in which middle-class youth have been portrayed as victims.

Lassiter’s evidence is multimodal, ranging from primary sources like articles from national publications and press releases to secondary sources like scholarly journal articles that also comment on the phenomenon of white middle-class youth being victims of drugs pushed by minority drug “kingpins.” He discusses how as marijuana use spiked amongst college-aged whites, a population deemed valuable because of their membership in the dominant social group, there were calls to repeal the laws that made it felony to possess marijuana. Loopholes were introduced that would protect those caught for first time offenses, while simultaneously mandatory-minimum sentences were made increasingly harsher for—typically minority—drug-pushers. In other words, when the criminals did not fit a racialized image of the stereotypical drug user, the government doubled back on its attempts to criminalize all marijuana users. Not only did these “impossible criminals” not fit the bill, but they also had futures worthy of protection because in all other realms they were as far from criminal as possible.

Lassiter concludes his article by discussing how the Raegan administration’s alliance with the suburban parent movement served to fortify the aims of the war on drugs. In Grass Roots, Dufton echoes this in a narrative format that folds in information chronologically. First in “Atlanta, 1976,” she details how the parent movement was started by parent activist Keith Schuchard in an affluent Atlanta suburb, Emory University’s own neighborhood of Druid Hills. Dufton mentions how the parent movement took up the cause of publicly criticizing the increasing availability of marijuana paraphernalia seemingly targeted at kids. Later in “The Coming Parent Movement” and “The Most Potent Force There Is,” she describes how the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth (NFP) gains credibility as it makes its way to Washington on the back of the Raegan administration. Throughout these chapters, Dufton is able to capture the urgency of the NFP in their quest to protect their affluent, suburban communities. Additionally, she comments on the political implications of the alliance between the NFP and the Raegan administration. However, after reading Lassiter’s piece I was struck by how little Dufton does in these chapters to clarify who is disadvantaged by the efforts of the NFP. Lassiter clearly identifies that parent movement’s success in enacting actual policy change is not only tied to their powerful political allies but also a result of the ease with which they could displace blame onto urban minority populations. The Grass Roots chapters read like an ode to the work done by Schuchard and her contemporaries to bring the parent movement to the mainstream. However, Dufton’s failure to acknowledge the intersectional aspects of the NFP’s rise makes her narrative fall flat. It left me asking questions about whether the whiteness of the NFP gave it inherent credibility that contributed to its influence.

Ultimately, both sources offered informative perspectives on changing attitudes in federal drug policy from the 1950-70s. Grass Roots does not convey the entire picture as it leaves out significant racially driven contributions to the parent movement’s success, making Impossible Criminals a more thorough source on the topic.

Drug Detection Dogs in Schools: Are They Worth It?

In what ways have the establishment of drug detection dogs impacted the possession of drugs by students in schools? Bomb dogs were first used in the United States back in the 1940s. According to the University of Dayton, it wasn’t until the 1960s when dogs were training to also find drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. My curiosity stems toward whether the use of drug sniffing dogs in schools has brought down the presence of drugs in schools since then. However, I also wonder whether there have been any legal issues concerning these searches. One article by the Journal of School Violence explores the data on school security measures. The study held a survey administered to 230 high school students questioning the safety of drug sniffing dogs in schools. According to most of the students, drug sniffing dogs do actually help reduce the presence of drugs in schools.[1] However, this does not seem to be the case everywhere. In my widespread research, I found that some studies say that drug sniffing dogs are ineffective and not worth it, while other studies say that drug sniffing dogs are highly effective and reliable. If there is no solid consensus on the effectiveness of drug dogs, then why are they still in use? There are many tools used by police officers that determine whether a person is under the influence of drugs or possessing drugs. This includes urine tests, roadside checks, and drug sniffing dogs. None of these tools are completely accurate in their job, which is checking for drugs or intoxication. In these situations of examination, officials lean more towards conviction and false positives rather than innocence. Why does our police system strive to implicate and incarcerate individuals much more than exonerate or prove their innocence? With the examination of drug sniffing dogs and what use they have upheld around the country, this research will hopefully argue that the modern police system is unreliable in its ability to enforce drug laws.

An article by ACLU Washington actually has a few statistics on how often drug dogs have signaled false positives in their searches and caused anxiety to students that did not deserve a more extensive search. The article starts with an incident back in 2011, when a high school in Washington conducted a drug search with the use of drug detection dogs. Two students were pulled for further searching; one student did end up having marijuana in their bag, while the other had no signs of drugs in any of their belongings.[2] Lisa Sullivan, the author of this article, suggests that drug sniffing dogs may be doing more harm than good. She claims that several studies state that drug dogs are prone to false alerts. Sullivan provides a link to these “several studies,” but the page shows up as “not found.” Nevertheless, records from one Washington school district claimed that eighty-five percent of the time, dogs were mistaken when alerting about a substance.[3] Another study in Chicago found that there was a fifty-six percent error from drug dogs when conduction roadside automobile searches. Surprisingly, the error actually increased to seventy-three percent for Hispanic drivers.[4] Some factors that may play into the error include officer racial bias, poor training, and accidental cues. Sullivan claims that there is hardly any evidence supporting the reduction of drug possession in schools because of the drug sniffing dog programs. Given that it can cost a district anywhere between $12,000 and $36,000, it seems Sullivan does not think that these programs are socially, efficiently, nor financially worth it. 

Officer Darin Tucker with K-9 Officer Jax at Concord High School in 2018.

According to Charles Russe from the University of Dayton, drugs in schools started becoming a problem back in the 1960s, which is when drug sniffing dog programs were starting to be implemented. This 2013 publication, contrary to Sullivan’s article, claims that drug sniffing dogs are actually highly effective and reliable. Most courts see enough of an impact from the programs that when challenged under the Fourth Amendment, the use of drug sniffing dogs in schools was maintained.[5] A Pennsylvania court case from 1998 (Commonwealth v. Cass) stated that the use of drug sniffing dogs in a locker search of 2,000 lockers was justified when it led to the discovery of drugs in one student’s locker.[6] The student who filed the case was fighting against the use of drug sniffing dogs on lockers because it was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. However, the court ruled the search to be a “minimally intrusive invasion of the student’s limited privacy interests in his locker; officials forewarned students of the possibility of a search… the drug dog was used to limit the search’s intrusiveness.”[7]

Also included in the argument against legislative issues are times when a drug sniffing dog signaled a false positive, but officials still found other school prohibited items. For example, in 2002 a federal trial court in Alabama found that a student had been sent to alternative school for having an X-acto knife and large pocketknife on school property. The item was found after a dog alerted its handler of narcotics in the student’s car.[8] Though no drugs were found in the vehicle, the student still violated the school’s regulations against weapons. Another federal court trial in Tennessee back in 2008 found a student was disciplined after a drug sniffing dog alerted their handler of the student’s vehicle, which led to alcohol being found within his belongings. The search was deemed constitutional after the dog was proven to be “properly trained and possessed the requisite indicia of reliability.”[9] Another court case in Texas in 2010 also rejected a student’s claim against the use of drug sniffing dogs after marijuana was found in her backpack. While the drug sweep was random, the search consisted of the dogs sniffing only the belongings of the students and not the student’s themselves, keeping the search legal.[10] Drug searches by sniffing dogs are constitutional if the students are only separated from their belongings for a short period, if the search is minimally intrusive, and if educators had an immediate need for the search due to a significant amount of evidence.  The conclusion of Russe’s paper argues that drug sniffing dogs are indeed an effective and anti-invasive way to help educators maintain a safe learning environment through keeping it contraband-free. 

            We have talked a lot about drug sniffing dogs alerting during their school sweeps, and it leading to the discovery of at least something prohibited in schools. But what happens when these false positives don’t lead to anything? How does it make the students and the teachers feel? A New York high school teacher by the name of Julie Gorlewski wrote about her and her students’ firsthand experience with being checked by drug sniffing dogs. The day, she describes, started out very normal with the teacher scolding her students being bad for the substitute.[11] The next day in class should have been followed by a writing assignment discussing the class’ reflections on their poor behavior. Instead, the day started with an announcement by the principal stating a Code 10. This is a drill where students and teachers practice hiding and appearing away from the classroom in the event of a school intruder. After the drill, the principal instructed the students to remain in their classrooms while police officers scanned the building with drug sniffing dogs.[12] After a few minutes, two police officers with a dog entered the teacher’s classroom, to their surprise. While the dog was searching the student’s belongings, the teacher describes the officer agitating and exciting the dog enough to make a mess of one student’s belongings. Gorlewski recalls feeling powerless in her own classroom. She says, “Questions haunted me: Should I have asked the officers to be more respectful of students’ supplies? Should I have modeled an appropriate reaction to inconsiderate behavior by authority? Were the officers’ actions inappropriate? What if I had had illegal substances in my purse or my coat? Was this search constitutional? And, most important, what was my role in this situation, as a teacher who tries to create a safe space for democratic dialogue?”[13] It has been ingrained into schools’ rules to keep the environments drug-free, thus drug searches in a way seem inevitable. However, Gorlewski says she felt violated in a way and felt like her classroom was invaded. 

In February 1990, the National School Safety Center—partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Education, and Pepperdine University—released a resource paper on student drug searches. The paper starts out by explaining how teachers and administrators have felt a need to do more to maintain a drug and weapon free environment given the increase of such prohibited items. Similar to Charles Russe’s paper, the author mentions that several searches have been disputed in state courts, while some have made it as far as the U.S. Supreme Court. According to the author, schools can actually conduct searches more easily than law enforcement officers, who need a warrant to conduct a search and need probable cause. Where law enforcement officers need to meet a probable cause standard, school officials have fought to only need to meet a reasonable suspicion standard for the alleged purpose of maintaining discipline and a safe school environment.[14] Teachers and school administrators are given explicit instructions in the searches based on reasonable suspicion so as to make it non-intrusive and constitutional.  

The paper provides two federal court cases that have different rulings towards having drug sniffing dogs on school campuses. One case from 1981, Doe V. Renfrow, ruled in favor of using dogs in schools to detect drugs. This court case ruled that a sniff of a student was not considered a search, thus avoiding a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Doe V. Renfrow case considered the use of drug sniffing dogs to be reasonable given the large number of drug incidents at the school in question.[15] Another court case from 1983, Horton V. Goose Creek, had a different outcome. Students from the Goose Creek Independent School District were informed that trained dogs would be sniffing for over 50 illegal substances on campus.[16] If an officer was alerted by a dog, the student’s possessions were to be inspected in an office. When alerting a vehicle, the student would be present to open the doors and trunk. When alerting a locker, school officials opened the locker and it would be searched without the consent or knowledge of the student.[17] A few students were unhappy with the way the search was conducted, and brought the case to court, claiming the school violated their Fourth Amendment rights. The Horton case determined that “dog sniffing of students’ lockers and cards is not a search.”[18] However, school officials are not to search the students’ belongings solely because of the dog’s reactions. 

            The National Criminal Justice Reference Service also has a 1972 report by the Southwest Research Institute called “Training Dogs for Narcotic Detection”. It is a thirty-page manual that explicitly details how to train a dog to detect marijuana, hashish, opium, cocaine, and heroin. The manual starts out by listing the advantages of using dogs to detect narcotics. This includes the fact that dogs can detect odors humans can’t, that they can be trained to detect more than one substance, and that they can be trained to search an area more efficiently than a human can.[19] The manual also goes over a few clarifications on the topic of addiction of drugs to dogs and the selection of dogs. Essentially, there is no evidence that leads to the conclusion that narcotic dogs could become addicted to the narcotics they have been trained to detect.[20] Additionally, there are certain breeds, such as German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers, that have the characteristics to make for a good narcotic detecting dog, but there is no breed requirement for the selection.[21] The manual is broken down into an introduction, basic training procedures, advanced training procedures, use of trained dogs in narcotic search, and causes and remedies for poor performance situations. The manual is very lengthy and shows that not just any dog can be selected to work in this field. It involves a lot of extensive training and there are many evaluations along the way to determine whether the dog is on the right track to becoming a fully trained narcotic detecting dog. Even though some dogs signal false positives in real life situations, there is still a lot done to make sure that happens as minimally as possible. 

            Another source I found is by the Metropolitan Police Department Training Division from Washington D.C. and is titled “Canine Training Section.” It is a fifty-five-page manual that goes over the reasons in which a police department would need a canine, the ways a canine unit would benefit a department, and the logistics of getting and maintaining a canine unit. According to the manual, most police department canines are donated to the department, but some could cost up to $200 per dog. In addition, the yearly upkeep of a trained dog can be anywhere between $300 and $500 per year.[22] The manual then goes over some basic information on canines, basic training instructions for a handler and their dog, sense of smell, things to look for in terms of the dog’s health, etc. One section is dedicated to the topic of narcotic detection dogs. The manual explains the establishment of three narcotic detection dogs in Washington D.C. to progress in the elimination of drug abuse back in February of 1969. It explains the expectations in the selection of both a handler and of dogs. Additionally, it has information on materials needed for training, training methods for each week up to eight weeks, and a summary on how much time it takes to train a narcotic detection dog depending on the ability of the dog to work with the handler. From the time the manual was published in 1980, approximately 130 police departments in the United States had established canine units.[23] Although there’s no way to know exactly how many police dogs are active today, the North American Police Work Dog Association estimated in 2010 there are over 50,000 working drug detection dogs in the United States.[24] The manual supports the case that although there have been a number of false positives given by narcotic detection dogs, there is an extensive amount of training that both the handler and dog have to go through to ensure that they are as accurate as possible. Additionally, it seems that the amount of times that the dogs are correct benefit the department a larger amount than when they are incorrect.  

            An FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin from August 1989 has a section by Kimberly A. Kingston J.D. called “Hounding Drug Traffickers: The Use of Drug Detection Dogs.” The column starts with a narrative about a drug detection dog named Winston, who in his career has confiscated “over $52 million worth of drugs, $14 million in cash proceeds from drug sales, and several million dollars’ worth of drug-related assets.”[25] According to the article, drug detection dogs are recognized to have a strong value to both law enforcement officers and courts. The article goes into detail about fourth amendment guidelines established by the Supreme Court and lower court cases for the use of drug detection dogs in certain areas such as public places, third-party controlled areas, private residences, and motor vehicles.[26] Following these guidelines ensures that any drugs found as a result of dog sniffing are admissible as evidence in court. The article expands on each area listed and defines any boundaries set by the court that drug detection dogs and their handlers should respect to stay with the guidelines of the fourth amendment. As I mentioned earlier in my research, there have been a number of court cases from students against drug detection dogs and their handlers violating their fourth amendment rights. Although there are set guidelines to avoid these situations, officers will not always be perfect when performing their procedures, which is why sometimes we still see the court cases on whether a fourth amendment right was violated or not. 

K-9 Officer Winston

            In my research, I have found two major disparate studies about the effectiveness of drug sniffing dogs: one claims that they do more harm than good while the other claims that they are highly effective and reliable. What does this difference mean? One flaw from the article by Lisa Sullivan claiming that drug sniffing dogs are inefficient is most of the studies were determined from a few cities in Washington and one study from Chicago. Thus, it doesn’t seem like enough to conclude that drug sniffing dogs are not beneficial for the entire country. There are also too many different factors pertaining to dogs such as level of training, handlers, environment, breed, etc., to be able to determine why a drug sniffing dog or their handler may have made a mistake. It is evident from my research that there is a significant amount of information and tips for having a successful drug detection dog. Additionally, there are many guidelines and boundaries implemented to the handlers to ensure they are respecting citizens’ rights. The war on drugs, racial bias, accidental cues, insufficient training, and failure to upkeep training are all reasons why a drug sniffing dog may signal a false positive in their search. Unfortunately, the modern police system has proven to be unreliable in its ability to enforce drug laws, and thus has to err on the side of caution in situations of false positives. Human error and racial bias also contribute towards exciting a drug sniffing dog and thus giving them an accidental cue. In any case, although there is a lot of precautionary literature to keep everything safe legal, sometimes the eagerness to find something becomes a factor in these false positives. 

Works Cited

[1] Ben Brown (2006) Controlling Crime and Delinquency in the Schools, Journal of School Violence, 4:4, 105-125, DOI: 10.1300/J202v04n04_07

[2] Sullivan, Lisa. “Drug-Sniffing Dogs in Schools Make Every Student a Suspect.” ACLU of Washington, October 16, 2017.

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] Russo, Charles J., “Sniff Dogs in Schools: Do the Noses Know?” (2013). Educational Leadership Faculty Publications. 148. 

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] Russo, Charles J., “Sniff Dogs in Schools: Do the Noses Know?” (2013). Educational Leadership Faculty Publications. 148. 

[10] ibid

[11] Gorlewski, Julie. “Teaching English in the World: The Crucible and Drug-Sniffing Dogs.” The English Journal, vol. 96, no. 2, 2006, pp. 72–74. JSTOR,

[12] Gorlewski, Julie. “Teaching English in the World: The Crucible and Drug-Sniffing Dogs.” The English Journal, vol. 96, no. 2, 2006, pp. 72–74. JSTOR,

[13] ibid

[14] National School Safety Center and Pepperdine University. “Student Searches & The Law NSSC Resource Paper.” PDF. Malibu, February 1990.

[15] ibid

[16] ibid

[17] ibid

[18] National School Safety Center and Pepperdine University. “Student Searches & The Law NSSC Resource Paper.” PDF. Malibu, February 1990.

[19] National Criminal Justice Reference Service. “Training Dogs for Narcotic Detection.” PDF. San Antonio, July 1972.

[20] ibid

[21] ibid

[22] Metropolitan Police Department Training Division. “Canine Training Section.” PDF. Washington D.C., January 1980.

[23] ibid

[24] Ingraham, Christopher. “The Surprising Reason More Police Dogs Are Dying in the Line of Duty.” The Washington Post. WP Company, April 26, 2019.

[25] Kingston, J.D., Kimberly. “Hounding Drug Traffickers: The Use of Drug Detection Dogs.” PDF. Washington D.C., August 1989.

[26] ibid

IMAGE 1: Twardosz, Gina, and South Bend Tribune. “Concord Schools Introduces Drug-Sniffing Dog.” South Bend Tribune, November 24, 2018.

IMAGE 2: Kingston, J.D., Kimberly. “Hounding Drug Traffickers: The Use of Drug Detection Dogs.” PDF. Washington D.C., August 1989.

Victims vs. Predators: American Attitudes Towards Drugs

When do we start to care about drugs? By this, I mean at what point do we take action when it comes to drugs? I’m sure that we have all heard of our current opioid epidemic and the movements to combat it. The massive upsurge in drug overdoses that we have seen in the past few as mobilized many to discuss how the nation will combat this issue. Or, maybe you have heard of South Dakota’s nearly $500,000 ad campaign designed to bring awareness to the state’s meth crisis. So, what stirred people into action? In both of these cases, it was children.

 If we look at Matthew Lassiter’s Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperative of America’s War on Drugs, we can see this pretty clearly. In this article, Lassiter begins by talking about an event in the late 1990s where fourteen white high school and college students in Texas died of a heroin overdose. This was followed by an explosion of news reports detailing those who overdosed as “tragic victims” of a new drug crisis (Lassiter 126). This narrative of the victimization of children as the targets of drugs is one of the largest sustaining factors of the war on drugs.

 But children are by no means the only motivator. In Lassiter’s piece, we see the news narrative of the deaths in Texas shift from focusing on the victims to focus on the Mexican drug lords who were “calculated and cold-blooded” (Lassiter 126) in their actions. This is the other major motivator for drug policy; race. Lassiter also points to the example of the “crack epidemic” in which we see a large disparity between how white suburban “victims” and minority urban “predators” were viewed. At this time, there was a huge disparity between the sentences for crack and cocaine with a 100-to-1 ratio. This means that 500 grams of cocaine, what white suburban kids predominately used, was seen as equivalent to 5 grams of crack, what urban minorities predominantly used, in the eyes of the law (Lassiter 138). This, Lassiter suggests, clearly shows just how deeply entrenched in American ideals these concepts are.

 This is something we see much earlier in history as well. In Courtwright’s The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate and Cocaine Use in the South. In this, Courtwright focuses on the analysis of the documentation of drug use in the south to examine trends. Courtwright argues that the drug most used by black people. Whether or not this was true, it certainly was perceived to be true at the time and from this came the concept of the black cocaine users who would go on rampages while on cocaine. While this was not true, this narrative was a major motivator for the drug reform that led to cocaine becoming illegal.

 Courtwright by no means argues this in his writing, however, but with Lassiter’s article in mind, this becomes particularly clear. This is the biggest difference between these two articles. Lassiter goes through his article with a clear argument and perspective in mind and provides substantial information that backs his argument up. Courtwright on the other hand, while he is arguing a narrative it fails to really go beyond “this is what happened”. This is not to say all of the pieces for a more argumentative article are not there it is just that Courtwright chooses to attempt to remain relatively neutral. Because of this, I find Lassiter’s article significantly more impactful as it provides a clear perspective which I think we need more of. We all have a decent amount of information on drugs and their history, but we are lacking in conversations on what to do about it and that is a conversation that needs to be had if we are to ever hope for any sort of progress.

 All of the events in Courtwright’s article occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s, nearly 100 years before the events of Lassiter’s article. To me, this clearly shows that the connection between drugs and race in America should not be a point of contention. There are years of history that supports this idea. What we should worry about is why? And how can we stop it? All of this really just shows how little our attitudes towards drugs have changed despite over 100 years pass.

Industrialization’s Effect on Drug and Alcohol Consumption in America

Over the course of American history, the United States and its inhabitants, on the whole, have largely and steadily gotten richer, save for a few blips and brief economic downturns like the Civil War, the Great Depression, and the Great Recession of 2008. In The Alcoholic Republic’s chapter 5, “Anxieties of Their Condition,” W.J. Rorabaugh notes that in America (and around the world, for that matter) around the time of the Industrial Revolution, a drastic social and economic class shift began which impacted patterns of drug and alcohol use.

With the Industrial Revolution came the growth of cities, westward migration, and a rapid population boom. Rorabaugh notes that new “middle class” positions, like clergy, schoolteachers, apprentices, and urbanites were all more susceptible to alcohol (and to a lesser extent) drug use. Even before the Industrial Revolution, with the rise of trade between Europe, Asia, and particularly the New World, drugs and alcohol flowed between both continents. Earlier in the book, Rorabaugh devotes several chapters to examining Revolutionary-era America’s patterns of alcohol consumption, which were largely equal to or exceeded Europe’s consumption levels, primarily due to America’s heavy production and drinking of hard, grain-based liquors.

Economically, the theory that as wealth increases drug and alcohol use increases makes sense. Just like with any “luxury” good, as people’s general and disposable incomes rise, their means to purchase and consume previously extraneous goods increases. In other words, people who have never used drugs or alcohol before, but have satisfied their basic needs—food, water, shelter, etc.—might have a higher propensity to experiment with drug and/or alcohol use than those who are just trying to simply survive.

Unfortunately, due to slavery and racism, people of color largely did not enjoy the immediate overall upward shift from the Industrial Revolution. As such, users of drugs and alcohol in the 1800s and into the early 1900s tended not to be African American, but rather white and middle or upper class. Thus, at least in this period of American history, substances were not really consumed by the poor, but rather the rich.

The graph above, which includes data from Our World in Data, shows that U.S. GDP per capita has steadily increased since 1820.

America’s “second industrialization,” World War II, also spurred drug and alcohol use and manufacturing. In Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac, David Herzberg notes the WWII drug boom, including increased use of opiates, antibiotics, the polio vaccine, and the start of anti-depressants.

Rorabaugh’s Alcohol Republic and David Herzberg’s Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac are two very different sources. Rorabaugh focusses almost exclusively on alcohol in a broad time period. On the other hand, Herzberg is looking more at prescription drugs (particularly anti-depressants) and their origins and sustained growing popularity from the time they were invented until now. However, taken together, they both explain, in general, that throughout multiple points in American history, when wealth broadly increases, so does substance use.

Generally speaking, similar trends of economic stability also correspond to the growth of marijuana consumption. During the 1950s and the early 60s (post-WWII and pre-Vietnam), overall economic growth in America was high (i.e. baby boomer generation). Not surprisingly, around the same time, marijuana started to come into the mainstream, setting the stage for its astronomical rise in the counterculture of the Vietnam War era and beyond.

Because the U.S. continues to amass per capita wealth today at an all-time high rate, it is plausible to assume that an increase in substance use will follow. Perhaps the modern opioid epidemic or the push for marijuana legalization are products of such wealth. (Think how many middle- and upper-class citizens there are for legalized marijuana businesses to market towards). Similarly, in other parts of the world, particularly those still developing economically, it would not surprise me if a similar trend occurs, increasing the global drug supply—for better or for worse.

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.

Effects of Classism and Racism on the Prohibition Era

‘You cannot make your shimmy shake on tea. It simply can’t be done. You’ll find your shaking ain’t taking, unless you has the proper jazz, that only comes with such drinks as The Green River, Haig, and Hennessy’. This tune grapples with the tragic sentiment felt by many Americans after the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment in January of 1919 which prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of intoxicating liquors. Musicians of the 1920’s found great popularity and fame by drawing on this perceived loss for artistic inspiration. Other industries such as advertising and film making industry expressed popular discontent with the novel social expectations. For this musician, the greatest drawback to the Prohibition movement was seemingly the inability to ‘shake your shimmy’ under the influence of lemonade and tea. However, many took more serious action in response to this drastic change and ultimately succeeded in escalating the end of this era. Ironically, this period much intended to be a dry spell for America is commonly termed the ‘Roaring 20s’ marked by numerous clubs and speakeasies, decorated with an emerging Jazz culture, and an eagerness to renounce the government’s imposed moral code. 

It is important to note however, that when considering this exciting culture of nightlife and rebellion, all social and racial groups took part. Often times, the acknowledgement that the Prohibition movement was in response to a growing class of drinking immigrants is not accompanied with the fact that many Americans actually participated in drinking culture just as much. Prohibition and temperance is often presented by historians as a movement primarily of the middle class seeking to establish respectability amongst a growing class of immigrants. Several analyses go as far as to hypothesize that before the passing of the eighteenth amendment, there was an inverse relationship between the likelihood that a county would have a prohibition policy and the size of the low income population and/or the African American population.[i]While this relationship may have some accuracy, it is not to be concluded that in general, the ‘urban’ class dominated the drinking scene. Language used in the year prior to the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment by the Anti-Saloon League and other Prohibitionists also suggests that the middle class were expected to uphold these principles of moral responsibility. Ultimately this rhetoric implicates the lower-income class and ethnic groups as being the primary target by law enforcement and consequently responsible for the ultimate failure of the Prohibition Era. 

Ironically, however, after the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibitionists struggled to enforce the law in large part because they had overestimated middle class morale, especially in New York. The Mediaindulged the public in images of middle class drinking promoting the idea that there was ‘respectable drinking.’[ii]Of course under the Volstead Act, actually having a drink was not considered illegal, but this behavior increased the demand for speakeasies and other avenues that sold and distributed liquor. Dry officials who denounced the media and these citizens for failing to set the standard for non-Americans further prove the classist and racist undertones of the Prohibition movement. Lerner points out in Dry Manhattan a quote from Federal Prohibition Commissioner Roy Haynes: Of them [middle class citizens] much is expected, for they represent the very best in American Traditions, and the nation naturally looks upon them as representative of the finest in American life. Non-observance [of Prohibition laws] on their part makes it easier for the foreigner unfamiliar with our customs and ideals, to violate the law.[iii]  These undertones of racism were so apparent at the time that ethnic groups took notice of them and interpreted them as such. 

In the African American community for example, many perceived partaking in Prohibition as an opportunity to gain social ascension and status within white America. They wanted to distinguish themselves from this false narrative that immigrants and the lower class were destructive to the American way of life. Of course considering the historical racial climate in the country, they saw this as an opportunity for change. This was particularly clear in Harlem as the Amsterdam News, the leading black paper at the time, advocated for these notions that African Americans should aim to ‘demonstrate the respectability of their race to the rest of the nation.[iv] 

Unfortunately for the dry African Americans, the contrary was true. In examining New York nightlife and the participation of the middle-class elite and federal officials in the drinking culture, it becomes clear that the notion of temperance as a respectable middle class value was a myth. In fact, the behavior of lawmakers and federal officials alone illuminates just how hypocritical the Prohibition movement was. In 1930, just 3 years before the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, George L Cassiday, better known as ‘The Man in the Green Hat,’ was arrested on charges of distributing liquor to the House and the Senate for five years.[v]  In other words, he was the Hill’s official bootlegger. Although Cassiday never published the list of individuals, he did write several articles for the Washington Post after the fact detailing his clientele and admitting to helping ‘80% of lawmakers’ break the law, many of whom voted in favor of Prohibition.[vi]He even details that after he was barred from the House office building, he began serving the Senate instead who were more careful. Many of whom would keep their illegal stash on a bookshelf next to the Congressional Record!’[vii]It can be hypothesized from incidents such as this that federal officials’ disregard for Prohibition sent several messages to the public: One message being that the Prohibitionists movement was inherently hypocritical and that notions of middle class respectability and traditional American values never existed. From this it can also be concluded that such public behavior from these groups contributed to further dismantling any respect for Prohibition laws. 

Appointed district attorney of New York, Emory Buckner, demonstrated an extreme disinterest and unconcern for the moral obligations being demanded by the Prohibition laws in an interview with The New Yorker. Buckner was the same district attorney to launched an entire camp to revamp the way that New York enforced Prohibition. This involved targeting speakeasy establishments as a whole by padlocking them shut as opposed to the prior used method of conducting federal raids and arresting only the proprietors and waitresses.[viii]When pressed about his stance on the moral obligation of Prohibition Buckner explicitly stated that he only cared for it as a legal problem and did not find fault in a man who chose to drink. He says, ‘such a man is dissatisfied with a particular condition imposed upon him by society.’ Buckner goes on to admit in this same interview that the last day he had a drink or ‘went on the wagon’ was January 26, 1925, when he was appointed to DA: approximately 5 years after Prohibition laws went into effect.[ix] This announcement blatantly undermined the Anti-Saloons notion that upper-middle class Americans would carry this moral burden and set a sophisticated example for the rest of the world. For this statement, Buckner was criticized by the Anti-Saloon League’s lead counsel Wayne Wheeler for allowing New Yorkers to ‘drink without reprisal’ and was also rebuked by the then President, Calvin Coolidge.[x] 

Beyond underestimating public morale for prohibition, classist and racist motivations also made federal officials less prepared to enforce the laws. Specifically, in New York, federal officials had to reorganize enforcement strategies because the courts could not process the amount of cases that were developing each day. In fact, it was not until the courts realized the influence that middle class America had on the working class did they begin to target the ‘respectable’ drinking spots in Manhattan’s theater district as opposed to the working class saloons. Even this proved ineffective however as citizens came up with devious ways to avoid federal raids, notably the hidden chutes that allowed patrons to dispose of liquor the basement. Enforcement agents were then forced to divert their attention once again to closing down speakeasies as a whole rather than targeting a few bartenders here and there.[xi] Of course, the pockets and influence of speakeasy patrons was also underestimated as many clubs simply reopened at other locations or even implemented a back entrance after padlocks were imposed.

Individuals of all social and racial groups defied the law: in extremely unique ways. Beyond raiding the typical image of a speakeasy as a club or organizes establishments, enforcement agents also targeted apartments as many individuals set up parties out of their own homes. One unique case described a ‘portable speakeasy’ which was characterized as ‘a roving speakeasy with no bar other than the rim of a gallon jug and no whiskey glasses.’[xii]Customers were charged thirty cents a drink which simply translated into being served the largest gulp they could take at one time. This incident is simply representative of the measures many would take to break the law. We can conclude that this was exacerbated by the strong allure of drinking culture that the middle class painted in the media, ultimately weakening the overall effect of prohibition officers. This was reiterated by many dry critics at the time who admitted that these images ‘encouraged disrespect for the noble experiment.”[xiii] After his district attorney appointment, Buckner criticized the government for not truly trying to enforce Prohibition. He says the government needed to pay its enforcement agents a living wage as the current income of $1800 a year was not enough to live in New York.[xiv]Adjusted for inflation to indicate annual revenue of today, prohibition enforcement agents were paid roughly $27,000 per year. Buckner stated this all while referring to the individuals who crafted the Eighteenth Amendment as ‘zealots. In 1931, the Commission on Prohibition Enforcement evaluated the incidents and updates of enforcement strategies at the time and despite the failure of such strategies, stood firm in opposing the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. In this same report, however, they acknowledged that ‘the support of public opinion in the several states is necessary to ensure such cooperation.’[xv]

What this ultimately suggests contrary to past and even present beliefs concerning the behavior of minority and low-income groups is that the white middle class partook just as much in this seemingly immoral behavior as any other group in America. Consequently, the perception that alcohol consumption was a shift away from traditional American values can also be considered false as it was representative of a very small portion of the country. This false perception about the middle class and minority groups undoubtedly shaped legislation concerning Prohibition and can even be argued to have the same effect with other drugs such as Marijuana in modern day. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that marijuana use today is roughly equal between blacks and whites, however; Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for possession.[xvi]Meanwhile, just last year, a Republican state senator inaccurately blamed African Americans for the passing of drug laws in the 1930’s: “What you really need to do is go back in the ’30s and when they outlawed all types of drugs in Kansas [and] across the United States. What was the reason why they did that? One of the reasons why — I hate to say it — it’s the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off those drugs just because their character makeup, their genetics, and that.”[xvii]What has happened historically and what is even happening today is that a misconception regarding who in America is utilizing drugs and for what purposes is influencing what legislation is created, and how it is enforced. The Prohibition era proved to have racist and classist motivations by presuming that the middle class were morally superior or in layman’s terms ‘better than’ other class and immigrant groups. This ultimately influenced how the city prepared to handle enforcement and contributed to the city’s initial struggle to enforce the law. Debunking myths about drug use can potentially contribute to more efficient legislation in the future. 

[i]Frendreis, John, and Raymond Tatalovich. “”A Hundred Miles of Dry”: Religion and the Persistence of Prohibition in the U.S. States.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly10, no. 3 (2010): 302-19.

[ii]Lerner, Michael A. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007 (148-170).

[iii]Ibid, 151.

[iv]Ibid, 201. 

[v]Wheeler, Linda. “The Day it Poured: Just 60 Short Years Ago, the Ban on Booze in D.C. was about to be Lifted.” The Washington Post (1974-Current File),Feb 27, 1994. edu/docview/750835381?accountid=10747.

[vi]Roller Emma. “Meet the Man Who Got Congress Its Booze During Prohibition.” The Atlantic. 11 Apr 2014.

[vii]Kelly, John. “Congress Winks at Prohibition in Bootlegger’s Tale.” The Washington Post. Washington: 27 Apr 2009. https://search-proquest-com.proxy.library.emory. edu/docview/1944021375/D72BF94DE4F54E27PQ/6?accountid=10747

[viii]Lerner, Dry Manhattan, 154. 

[ix]Markey, Morris. ‘Mr. Buckner Explains.’ The New Yorker. November 14, 1925.

[x]Lerner, Dry Manhattan, 155.

[xi]Ibid, 153

[xii]“Portable Speakeasy Operated by Pair at Rockaway Beach Uncovered by Cop: Their Bar was a 

Gallon Jug, and Whiskey Glasses were Customers’ “Guzzles”–Wares 30 Cents for a Swallow.” The New York Amsterdam News (1922-1938), Jul 29, 1931. docview/226277963?accountid=10747.

[xiii]Lerner, Dry Manhattan, 151. 

[xiv]Markey, Mr. Buckner Explains.

[xv]Sawyer, Albert E. “Report on the Enforcement of the Prohibition Laws of the United

States: Comment.” Michigan Law Review 30, no. 1 (1931): 7-37. doi:10.2307/1280632.

[xvi]‘The War on Marijuana in Black and White.’ American Civil Liberties Union. June 2013.

[xvii]Lopez, German. ‘A Republican Lawmaker blamed marijuana use by black people on ‘character makeup’ and ‘geneticts.’ Vox.9 Jan 2018.

The Viagra Monologues

                     The babymaker. The little blue pill. Bluey. The erector. A fallen’s angel. The gem of the medicine cabinet, having the appropriate shape of a diamond. Call it what you want, but at the end of the day it is the same cultural phenomenon packed into one little blue pill–Viagra. A few theories exist as to why men suffer from erectile dysfunction, ED for short. For a long period of time, up until the 1960s in fact, frigid women were thought to be the cause of erectile dysfunction–their disinterest in sex was believed to have dampened men’s sexual arousal and, thus, women were the ones to blame for men’s physical problems (Loe). However, the predominant theory among the medical community today is that erectile dysfunction is caused, simply, by physical changes to the male’s body. This theory is sound, but it only reflects the majority of the diagnosed community, while there are plenty of men getting Viagra on the blackmarket or by other means without a prescription that have no problems achieving and maintaining an erection. Viagra is not just a pill, but is made out to be the fountain of youth for a man, the cure for everything, the magical potion to become a sex god, and so on. With a belief that they will perform better by taking Viagra, men lurk on the web scouting it out, pick it up as a party favor, and take some from their friends. Men as young as 22-years-old take Viagra, often to offset side effects from other drugs like alcohol, crystal meth, and ecstasy and to boost more than just their anatomy (The Hays Daily News). The male ego is at the epicenter of Viagra. There are a few reasons as to why Viagra thrives in today’s American society–the prioritization of sex, the growing threats to men’s traditional roles in society, and a fear of growing older are just to name a few. The focus of this paper is to investigate how Viagra reflects the male ego in American society.

The Orgasmic Origins

Though there were products that helped combat erectile dysfunction before the invention of Viagra, they did not take off like Viagra did. Some of these methods included vacuum pumps, rhino horns, penis augmentation, penis rings, and so on (Loe; Castleman). Many felt that these prior methods were too invasive and that Viagra was not, despite the fact that Viagra might be one of the most invasive of all since this is a cultural artifact that is actually being ingested into one’s body and becoming part of that person’s chemistry. 

Viagra was originally meant to control blood pressure, but during the trial period, scientists found something even more profitable–the supposed cure for impotence. After its approval in 1998 by the FDA in the wake of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal (an appropriate time as any to come out with a sex drug–needless to say, President Clinton was a strong advocate of the drug), doctors could not write enough prescriptions for patients. Never before had doctors seen so many alleged cases of erectile dysfunction. Entrepreneurs recognized Viagra for the money-maker it was and wasted no time capitalizing on this. The pill was so desired that a Yugoslavian pizzeria had a $50 pizza and Viagra combo deal before it was legalized in Yugoslavia. Dr. Rafael Wurzel even went so far as to say that it was “the biggest thing since the Beatles” in 1998 (The Kerrville Times).

America in One Pill

It was the new blockbuster lifestyle drug, becoming as big of a name as Prozac in the world of miracle drugs (Latson). Viagra can act as an example of the trend of commercialization of medication after World War II that David Herzberg delves into in his book Happy Pills in America (Herzberg). The commercialization of Viagra is one way of illustrating how sex has moved from the private sphere to the public sphere. The concept of sex used to be more of an intimate, private act, and yet the concept is now broadcasted to millions over Viagra advertisements and the like. 

Whereas before, there was a relative shortage of men in the porn industry, suddenly with the added confidence boost Viagra afforded them, men flooded onto the scene (Person). Gone was the timid and out came the brazen. The sexualization of our society helped bring about Viagra’s popularity and also, funnily enough, helped continue the cycle, perhaps even adding to the sexualization of society as can be seen with its effect on the porn industry. 

Viagra is often correlated with masculinity. In Viagra commercials, football, basketball, NASCAR racing, deep sea fishing, sailing, and driving trucks are all featured. Pfizer, the company over Viagra, paid big bucks to be associated with the NFL, spending $31 million to be advertised in one season of the NFL alone (Rosenthal). Viagra is not only connected to the NFL through commercials though. According to Brandon Marshall, a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, a lot of NFL players reportedly use Viagra to help with endurance during games (Sports Illustrated). Not only does Viagra act as a performance-enhancing-drug, but it is also advertised by bodybuilders, catering to men’s desire for masculinity (D’Marge). 

The obsession many men seem to have with their bodily utilities is nothing new. There is an ancient fresco in Pompei that illustrates this perfectly. The fresco from 79 A.D. pictures a nobleman, a member of the upper classes, with an erect penis reportedly possessing “the length and girth larger than a man’s leg” lying on top of an ancient scale with sacks of gold acting as a counterweight to it (Psychology Today). Dr. Abraham Morgentaler calls this desire for a bigger penis the Stallion Syndrome. An example of Viagra compensating for the wounded male ego is the confessions men like Bernard, a 58-year old retired construction worker, in The Kerrville Times newspaper have made about getting more self-confidence and feeling good about who they are after taking Viagra (The Kerrville Times). This gives some insight into how many men value themselves and who they are physically more so than spiritually or emotionally. Gail Sheehy, the famous author of Understanding Men’s Passages, suggests that men should instead view erectile dysfunction as an opportunity to “reconfigure their lives and create a new definition of what it means to be a man” (Santa Cruz Sentinel). The popularity of Viagra seems like this suggestion never quite took off and men are reluctant to change what they consider to be the defining feature of being a man. 

Viagra’s target audience appears to be heterosexual middle-aged white men of the upper classes. As Professor Jarret of the urology department at George Washington University put it, “When people have money to spend, they are willing to spend on their sexual health” (ABC News). After conducting an analysis myself of thirty Viagra commercials, 76.67% of the commercials star whites only. The men predominantly appear to be middle-aged in the commercials. Viagra commercials tend to focus on just a man or woman by themselves in their commercials.  In fact, only 33.33% of the commercials picture a man and woman together. This may reflect on how women are not given a voice when it comes to Viagra despite sex ethically being a consensual act. The commercials advise men to consult with their doctors, but there is no line uttered saying to consult with their partners. When women do appear in the commercials, they are often posed seductively, as if more than willing and acting as sirens to lure men into the world of Viagra and make them believe they will be on the top of the world again by doing so–the quick fix that society craves. The quick fix to a man’s injured ego and the quick fix to relationship problems–many people appear to be under the misconception that sex fixes relationships, while it seems this is not the case (The Daily Herald; Santa Cruz Sentinel). The large percentage of commercials geared towards white males is no incident–they are the very people that are likely to feel most threatened in today’s progressive society, thus seeking a feeling of power. My findings appear to be in accordance with Meika Loe’s findings showing that advertisements for Viagra put great cultural emphasis on whiteness, masculinity, and heterosexuality (Loe). 

Despite the fact that the heterosexual community is the main target audience of Viagra, quite a few homosexual men dabbled with the drug as well, often mixing the drug with others. Statistics, as shown in a newspaper, indicate that homosexual men using Viagra were twice as likely to have unprotected sex, thus increasing their chances of getting AIDs. There was a significant correlation between Viagra use and unprotected sex. The rate of STDs greatly increased after the release of Viagra also by no surprise given the statistics (The Hays Daily News).

Another audience that was not targeted in Viagra commercials, but certainly uses it, is young men in their teens and twenties. This is the recreational market audience. Though Viagra should provide no physical benefit for those without erectile dysfunction according to scientists, it does provide a psychological benefit. Placebo is an accurate example of the quote, “If you believe enough, it will happen.” There is evidence that just the thought of having taken Viagra or other sexually stimulating drugs makes people sexually excited (Herper; Harper). In one such study, Pfizer was examining the effects of Viagra on women but had to reportedly stop the study when they found that most of the women given placebos in the control group were sexually stimulated. Due to the fact that many popular recreational drugs, like cocaine, cause men to have trouble with erections, it is not a big surprise that young people use Viagra recreationally as an ingredient in their own concoction of drugs to offset the effects from other drugs they have taken. The problem with recreational use is that users often get drugs from the black market where no examination or medical history is done beforehand, leading to some risks.  In an ironic twist of fate, one man in the U.K. that bought Viagra off the black market had to get his penis amputated (Malicdem). Pfizer estimates that 80% of websites selling Viagra were actually selling counterfeit drugs manufactured in unlicensed factories, containing talcum powder and rat poisoning among other ingredients (Hager). The recreational market for Viagra is huge–police seized 27,000 unmarked Viagra pills off the black market shipped all the way from Hong Kong to Mississippi (FOX 5). No one person needs that much Viagra, which is a telling sign of the money that person thinks he or she can make off of the shipment if he or she is willing to buy $663,000 worth of Viagra. 

As women climb up the ladder of society, men need to find some way to reassert their dominance. Sex may act as a method of domination for these insecure men. As women increasingly enter the workforce, Viagra’s popularity seems to increase.  In 1998, according to a graph made by the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor, there was a 59.8% participation rate among women in the labor force and a 74.9% participation rate among men in the labor force in 1998 and this employment gap has increasingly narrowed over the years (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR). A study conducted in 2019 by researchers at the University of Toronto titled “Growing sense of social status threat and concomitant deaths of despair among whites,” indicates that the rising white mortality rates within the United States are due to “a perceived decline in relative group status on the part of whites” (Siddiqi, Arjumand, etc). White males were at the top of the social hierarchy for a long time in America, but now gaps are closing between races and genders with higher educational attainment increasing across the board and wage gaps narrowing (Third Way). This feeling of decreased self-worth in public life leads to men with and without erectile dysfunction using Viagra in hopes of enhancing their performance and regaining the self-worth in the bedroom that they perceive to have lost in society. As Leonore Tiefer, an expert in sexuality with a PhD in experimental psychology, explains, people increasingly rely on “personal relationships to provide a sense of worth they lack in the public sphere due to increased technology, mobility, and bureaucracy” (Tiefer). This is not hard to believe given the tremendous societal changes America has seen in the past century. Voting is no longer an activity made exclusively for white males. Women now have equal pay, whereas before men were raking in the dollars and women were relegated to domestic life. The United States has become increasingly diverse. Given these changes and more, white men are no longer the kings of the public sphere, so in some ways white men rightly feel a loss because they lost this status. 

The Woman’s Perspective 

“Dear sir, my husband took Viagra instead of paracetamol this morning. Since our maid is also home, I can not come to the office today. Thank you” (Whisper).

This fear of infidelity was not an isolated event, in fact, Pfizer was even sued by a scorned woman whose husband started cheating as soon as he could with Viagra (Ukiah Daily Journal). Many seem to blame the drug for infidelity as opposed to the men themselves, similar to people blaming drugs for crime. The mention of a maid in the quote above also does a fairly good job of demonstrating the class Viagra caters to–the upper class. Just one dose of Viagra costs $25.75 and one dose does not even equal an entire pill (Try Sildenafil). According to Sally and Hilda, two elderly women interviewed, “the price is going to leave even the middle-classes behind” (Fischer, Seidman).  It is a funny sort of coincidence that the man pictured in the 79 A.D. fresco previously mentioned was a member of the upper class because the price of Viagra tends to target people with money to spare. Perhaps this catering to the upper classes not only acts as a luxury to further separate men in different classes, but also as a hope of the upper classes proliferating, making more of those like themselves to supposedly “lessen the burden on society” as some might say. Men can be fertile as old as 92 (Guinness World Records).

Two advice columns, written by twin sisters, known as “Ask Ann Landers” and “Dear Abby” that appeared in newspapers provide a wealth of knowledge into what women’s thoughts were on Viagra upon its arrival. Women would lament to Ann or Abby about their worries and Ann and Abby would provide quick qips of advice to the women. One particularly controversial reply given by Ann Landers to a woman concerned with the coming of Viagra and her husband’s doctor recommending it to him despite her not wanting to have sex with him was basically that if she loved her husband she would have sex with him because it makes him happy (The Kerrville Times). Needless to say, that reply was met with backlash by other women, commenting that it was very much a 1950s-style retort. This woman debating over whether she was being a bad wife or not because of not wanting sex with her husband was not alone in her disinterest towards Viagra. A survey featured in one particular Ann Landers’ column showed that a majority of women were content without sex (The Salina Journal).

Change is often fought against and Viagra is one way of fighting change–changes in society and changes in biology. Both men and women try to turn back the clocks on mother nature out of vanity and Viagra is one example of that. Sex is not a medical necessity and a major factor into Viagra’s survival and popularity lies within the man’s ego. 


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 “26 Jun 2002, Page 17 – The Hays Daily News at” Accessed December 6, 2019.–fAudGO03r_tnv9A:1474000:1560032975.

 Herper, Matthew. “Placebo Is The Real ‘Female Viagra’.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, January 2, 2012.

 Harper, Naomi. “Everything You Need for an All-Night Party … His and Hers Viagra.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, March 11, 2007.

 Malicdem, Darwin. “Viagra Causes Man To Lose Penis.” Medical Daily, September 16, 2019.

 HAGER, THOMAS. TEN DRUGS: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine. S.l.: HARRY N ABRAMS, 2019.

“Officers Seize 27,000 Unmarked Viagra Pills at Port.” FOX 5 Atlanta. FOX 5 Atlanta, August 13, 2019.

 “U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR.” Women in Labor Force, Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor. Accessed December 6, 2019.

 Siddiqi, Arjumand, Odmaa Sod-Erdene, Darrick Hamilton, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and William Darity. “Growing Sense of Social Status Threat and Concomitant Deaths of Despair Among Whites.” SSM – Population Health. Elsevier, November 20, 2019.

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“Take My Advice: The Ann and Abby Story.” IMDb., July 19, 1999.

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.

The Stoned-masters: A Look into the Complex Relationship Between Rock Climbing and Drugs in Yosemite in the 1970s

Rock climbing as we know it is nothing like it used to be. It started as a branch of mountaineering, where mountaineers would use equipment to help them ascend the big walls they faced. Climbing only began its journey to become a sport in of itself in the early 1900s, and even then climbers used a lot of equipment to get up. In America, it was only in the 70s that climbers began to do what we now call free climbing – that is, climbing only with safety gear, with nothing but hands and feet to help them with the ascend. The innovators who began this trend were the self-titled Stonemasters, a group of fearless runaway teens that moved to Yosemite Valley and became virtually homeless. They spent their days climbing, working out, stealing food from the nearby hotels and partying. 

These pioneers were barely of age when they decided to leave their lives behind to pursue climbing. Their entire teenage years were focused around this sport, which was often deemed more important than more socially acceptable activities other teenagers enjoyed. John Long (one of the founding members of the Stonemasters) for example, recalls that after highschool was over “[he] didn’t hang around for graduation, but was on the first Greyhound bus headed north for [his] first trip to Yosemite Valley”. The typical teenager would not dream of missing graduation, but Long did not give it another thought if it meant a few extra days spent in America’s climbing hub. The sport engulfed every aspect of his life. 

The Stonemasters rejected societal norms for little to no reward, often leaving comfortable lives behind to sleep in the wilderness with nothing but a sleeping bag for warmth. They had no jobs, no home, no real direction in life besides wanting to climb. To the outside world they were reckless teenagers not contributing to society, but that didn’t stop them: they were after something, but what? Rock climbing in its purest form has no external reward. Though it is much safer now, back in the 70s it was an extremely risky sport with the very real danger of ending in death. The Stonemasters sought out this danger asking nothing external in return, so where lay their motivation? 

These teenagers were looking for something beyond what life had to offer them, especially since most (if not all) of them were not leaving something particularly extravagant behind. In fact, many climbers who first joined the Stonemasters but had ties to their previous lives ended up leaving The Valley after the first few months to return to their homes and pursue a more traditional lifestyle. The ones who stuck had successfully separated themselves from every aspect of modern society, taking Camp 4 (the place where most yosemite climbers took refuge, pictured below) and making it into a land of their own. Surrounded by the great walls of the park, they had no aspirations beyond getting to the top. The idea of being ‘productive members of society’ brought them no joy, and so to The Valley they went — in search of something more. 

According to Dave Hardy of Liverpool John Moores University, this something more comes in the form of peak experience — encompassing flow, ecstasy and self-actualization. What Hardy dubbed peak experience can easily be compared to a transcendental experience, something often achieved through meditation or — you guessed it — drugs. It comes as no surprise, then, that these climbers seeking something more combined the two things that brought them such feelings. Sometimes taking it to the extreme, when climbers would ascend a huge wall while tripping on psychedelics. They endangered their lives by doing this, with only this peak or transcendental experience as a reward. 

But doing dangerous things for the sake of doing them (that is, with no obvious reward) runs deep in climbers’ blood. It comes to be though mix of youthful recklessness, competitiveness, and community. Let us take a deeper look at the latter of the three. 

Community in an integral part of climbing, as oftentimes your life is quite literally in somebody else’s hands. If you are climbing more than 20ft up, there are only three things keeping you from plummeting to your death: your skills, gear, and your climbing partner. The Stonemasters took this idea to the extreme, forming a family in Camp 4. They ate together, climbed together, trained together, lived together, and smoked together. 

Even today, smoking cannabis is seen as a mostly social thing to bring people together. Back in the 60s and 70s, this sentiment was arguably stronger. With all the anti-war riots occuring at the time, cannabis “became something — and sometimes the only thing — that diverse fractions of antiwar protesters had in common”. It was known to get rid of racial and social tensions between groups to bring them together, a phenomenon repeatedly seen in this era. At Camp 4, where community and competition were so often intertwined, cannabis served as a way for everyone to come together at the end of a busy day to relax and make amends. Using cannabis in this manner was extremely beneficial, for without a community these climbers never would have succeeded as much as they did. In fact, many would have left Yosemite days after arriving. 

Following John Long’s story (the aforementioned Stonemaster founding member), he arrived in Yosemite by first taking a Greyhound bus as far as he could, then hitchhiking the rest of the way. All he had with him were two friends, minimal equipment and no experience with big wall climbing. The only reason he was able to continue his pursuit to climb El Capitan (the most famous wall in the Valley) was because he had the help of many experienced climbing legends, in particular Jim Birdwell (“The Bird”). These climbers quite literally showed him the ropes, leading him to become one of the most well known american climbers. Climbing was an obscure sport, and the only way for it to evolve was through a strong community that helped each other. 

Though climbers clearly had a strong sense of respect for each other, their views of authority were entirely different — comparable to the relationship between hippies and authority. In fact, this comparison got taken to the extreme by the general public in after to the Stoneman Meadow Hippie Riot, which will be discussed later. The point being made now is that the authorities these hippies and climbers grew up listening to were lying about the dangers of the drugs they now took — saying it led to manic behaviour and heroin addiction. In their experience, all cannabis (and psychedelics, to some extent) did was enhance their climbing experience (in the case of climbers) and bring them together (in the case of both these groups). So if they lied about drugs, who is to say these authorities were not lying about everything? This distrust of authorities, stemming because of personal drug use, led to growing tensions.

In the 60s, young people were in pursuit of personal freedom — be it by protesting against the Vietnam war (and thus, against being drafted) or asking for the decriminalization of drugs. With the Nixon administration, the 70s turned tense in regards to drug use. In a sense, this made communities still enjoying marijuana even more tightly knit — and even more distrustful of the authorities and outsiders they viewed as ‘squares’. 

Now let us take a look at the event that catalyzed this hate: The Stoneman Meadow Hippie Riot of 1971. Yosemite National Park had long been a tourist destination for families to enjoy nature, but things began to change in the 60s when more and more young hippies swarmed the park looking to feel more connected with nature. This caused immediate tension, as these youngsters were loud and plentiful, disturbing the peace of many families — especially since  “the smell of marijuana [began wafting] through the meadows”. It all climaxed when a riot broke out at Stoneman Meadow campsite, with hippies and park rangers attacking each other. The backlash of this was that from now on, park rangers grouped climbers and hippies together: they both smoked a lot of pot, had long hair, and were young. Years of ranger harassment towards climbers followed.

This inherent hostility between authority and the reckless youths only led climbers to act out more. Many injustices were done towards them, one climber even recalls spending a week in jail because he drank out of an abandoned coffee mug at one of the coffee shops (as these climbers often did, since they could not afford to buy food or drink). Once he went in for trial the judge immediately dismissed the case, exemplifying how ridiculous the entire scenario was. Rangers were out to get the Stonemasters, demonizing everything they stood for. Climbers shared the sentiment, hating rangers for making it harder to do what they love. In Dale Bard’s words (another member of the Stonemasters) “this isn’t your park, it’s our park”.

Clearly, the counter-cultures of climbing and the hippie movement have a lot of overlapping ideals that feed off of each other. Both seeked something deeper than what society presented them with, turning to drugs (mainly cannabis) and nature to attain said thing. This drug revolution was fueled by distrust of authorities, unwillingness to conform to the society that they so wished to escape and the undying want of the aforementioned peak experience. As such, drugs and climbing were so intertwined that one became a fundamental part of the other. 

This all became exemplified one morning in Camp 4 when two climbers made an unbelievable discovery that would change their lives. In the middle of the frozen Lake Chronicopia, mere miles away from Camp 4, lay a plane crash. This was not just an ordinary place crash, however: it was an illegal plane filled with 5 tons of cannabis! Now, these broke climbers did the one logical thing — instead of reporting it to the rangers, they spent a month scavenging all that they could. As one reporter put it, “Over the course of the next few weeks, [climbers] got more and more efficient at extracting the weed; pulling it out assembly-line style. They hiked out with chainsaws that they stole from the park service. One guy would cut a square of ice, the next guy would pull the ice out, the third would fish for the bales”. It served as a way for these climbers to defy the rangers, since all of this was done under their noses — by the time the rangers found the plane crash, all the cannabis was gone and there was no evidence to link the raid back to the climbers.

It was the 70s, and this discovery was a gold mine (besides being extremely satisfying for the climbers regarding their rivalry with the rangers). The 20 – 30 climbers living in Yosemite Valley were becoming rich by selling all the cannabis they did not smoke themselves. Many could now afford to buy better climbing gear, living necessities, and even houses. They were no longer poor dirtbags living off of peoples’ good graces and stolen food. With this came a distinct change in dynamic. The climber lifestyle was based off being minimalist, caring about nothing but climbing. Monetary gain shifted things, making it so that climbers could now afford masses of material goods. 

The way climbers originally used drugs aided them to truly immerse themselves in the lifestyle. Now, cannabis was acting as a barrier between these pioneers and climbing. It no longer helped them build a community around climbing and achieving self-actualization like discussed previously, but rather distracted them from such. 

Viewing it from a different lens, all the money the cannabis got them also helped push climbing forward in a different manner. The focus was no longer on escaping societal norms and living off-grid, but rather on building a life in society while maintaining a passion for climbing. It made the sport sustainable with a traditional lifestyle, helping in the transition between complete immersion in this lifestyle and building a life outside of it. Logically, living the life the Stonemasters lived was not sustainable. With their newfound wealth, they could afford to focus even more on climbing without having to worry about where their next meal was going to come from. They could afford to buy better and safer gear to climb harder. It all just came down to how the money was used.

Many Stonemasters used it to sustain their climbing careers, at least for a little while. One member, David Bard, recalls that “[the money] was enough for me to live very comfortably for, you know, four or five years”. Others blew through the money way too fast, getting distracted from climbing for the momentarily attractive spender lifestyle, but returning to The Valley and “rediscovering their one and only passion”. Instead of adding to the climbing experience, cannabis momentarily served as a distraction to some by granting them access to so much money, but everything eventually subsided.

In conclusion, the reason people turn to the grand walls of Yosemite is to escape society, and to find something more. These climbers found peak experience on the walls. John Long recalls his first time atop El Capitan (pictured above), “only then did the whole disparate experience harmonize itself into a point of emotional symmetry and purpose”. He, like all hardcore climbers of Yosemite in the 70s, found peace following a reckless dream fueled by carelessness, freedom, and drugs. Cannabis and LSD began as a way for climbers to embrace this lifestyle, to go against what authorities told them to do. Suddenly, it served as a way for climbers to sustain themselves financially, perhaps to the point of distraction, but surely the overall effect was positive towards their climbing journey. Without having drugs in the picture, especially cannabis from that godforsaken plane crash, the Stonemasters would not have been able to achieve their climbing goals as fully and effortlessly as they did.

Sex for Crack

The crack epidemic sparked the sex-for-crack phenomenon. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was very common for women to sell their bodies in exchange for money that they could use to
buy drugs, or even to sell their bodies in exchange for drugs directly. The most common drug exchanged for sex was crack, as opposed to cocaine.[i] According to American Addiction Centers, “Cocaine is a hydrochloride salt in its powdered form, while crack
cocaine is derived from powdered cocaine by combining it with water and another substance, usually baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).”[ii] The effects of smoking crack are instant, more intense, and last a shorter amount of time than snorting or injecting cocaine. The fact that the drug takes effect quickly and does not last too long can cause people to want to smoke more often to be high for longer periods of time leading to dependency. Crack is also sold much cheaper than cocaine.[iii] This is why crack is most often found in low-income neighborhoods, which mostly consist of people of color. This meant that more African Americans were selling their bodies for drugs, and studies by Robert Schilling and Dana E. Hunt show that this was mostly the case for African-American women specifically. The ties between women and motherhood in American society and the combination of sex and crack brought on the fear of “crack babies.” There is no medical condition that can be called “crack baby,” but people were concerned for children exposed to crack.[iv] Sex work is a consequence of drug addiction and low social economic class, which impacted African-American women most during the crack epidemic.

Ellen Mitchell’s New York Times article from 1990 shows how people viewed the connection between crack and prostitution at the time. According to the article, most prostitutes were addicted to crack in that time period and engaged in sex work on their own, without pimps. The tone of the article seems judgmental, “While yesterday’s call girls worked with a fair degree of discretion and usually behind closed doors, today’s genre are freewheeling streetwalkers who flag down cars by lifting their miniskirts still higher and smiling or sticking their tongues out at commuters leaving railroad stations.”[v] The author made it sound like women were selling their bodies for fun rather than painting them as victims of an addiction. The head of the Suffolk Police Narcotics Enforcement Team states, “As much as they earn, they spend it almost immediately on drugs. They are serious crack addicts.”[vi] According to the article, when crack began making its way into suburbs in the late 1980s, prostitution arrests in Suffolk County’s five westernmost towns immediately spiked by over a hundred arrests. This shows the connection between sex work and crack.

The newspaper article includes a testimony by a sex worker, Darlene, who did not use crack. She claimed that women that did use crack did not charge much for their sex work, and she confirmed that they immediately spent their earnings on crack. She also stated that they did not have a set schedule like she did. This shows that these women were not focused on sex work for money in general but for crack and, likely, worked when they needed more drugs. Darlene judged the women based on appearance and insinuated that she was a professional, while they were not. According to Goldstein’s review of Crack Pipe as Pimp: An Ethnographic Investigation of Sex-for-Crack Exchanges, “Prostitutes who accept cash for sex, and then buy their crack, have higher status than women who exchange sex for crack directly.”[vii]Darlene may have had more respect for the women she mentions as spending their money on crack than those that received crack for their services; however, she knew they would instantly spend the money on drugs, which was almost as if they were just selling their bodies for the drug directly. Therefore, Goldstein supports Darlene’s account of the other women as having lower status. Goldstein also included that most of the women in their samples tend to be “poor, female, African-American, homeless, powerless, and frequently high-school droupouts.”[viii] This supports the common demographic of the sex-for-crack phenomenon being low-income, African-American women.

O’Daniel’s book Hold On includes a section about a woman named Chantelle, which she categorizes as a “vulnerable woman” due to her low-income and health status. She says Chantelle began using drugs early in life, and she had a low income and was eventually homeless. Her drug addiction got worse, and she sold and traded sex to pay for drugs.[ix] Like many others, Chantelle began drug use before prostitution; therefore, prostitution was not the reason for her drug use. She was low-income and used prostitution to support her drug use.

The 1992 national report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics explains that prostitution was commonly used to generate income for drug use. Page 7 shows that Drug Use Forecasting reported in 1990 that 81% of females that were arrested for prostitution in 21 cities and 49% of males in 23 cities tested positive for drug use.[x] The page states, “prostitution is sometimes used to support drug use,” introducing the idea that prostitution was used as a means to support drug habits in the 1990s.[xi] The BJS report claims, “Users may resort to prostitution or increase their activity when drug dealing activities are disrupted or drug prices rise…the national TOPS study of people in drug abuse treatment in 1979-81 found that daily users of heroin or cocaine were more likely than other types of drug users to report income from crime.”[xii] During the crack epidemic there was an influx of crack in low-income areas, and the demand spiked up prices. Because of this, low-income people had to find a way to generate more money to pay for it, and many resorted to prostitution. The report states, “Drug users sometimes barter sex for drugs and may not consider it to be prostitution. Sex for crack exchanges seem especially frequent.” Because it was not considered prostitution, this establishes sex work as a way of income specifically for drugs rather than a crime in and of itself, which is how it was being used. This also emphasizes how common it was.

According to pages 43-45 of Prevalence of Drug Use in the DC Metropolitan Area Adult and Juvenile Offender Populations, 1991, randomly selected adult respondents convicted of  a crime said the drug most often sold was crack and “one in three respondents traded drugs for sex.”[xiii] Of those that traded drugs for sex, the drug they received in exchange tended to be crack (80.7%).[xiv] According to pages 97-98, when it came to convicted incarcerated juvenile offenders, more than one in three respondents engaged in a trade of sex for drugs, and “Again crack was the drug traded for sex almost exclusively.” [xv] This is because 97.9% of those that traded sex for drugs only traded it for one drug, and 93.6% of trades were for crack cocaine specifically. Cantor states, “This was the most specialized activity with respect to type of drug.”[xvi] The most common way to acquire drugs based on the study of juveniles was by trading sex. It was also the case that young people specialized in crack more than adults. 

Schilling’s study shows that it was more likely for African-American women to engage in sex for drugs than other women. It was a voluntary study in New York City, but of the 105 incarcerated women that met the criteria for the study, 104 participated.[xvii] Therefore, there does not seem to be much bias based on who participated. The study found that those who traded sex were less likely to be white.[xviii] However, there were fewer white females incarcerated. This may have skewed the results. 

Most of the respondents in Schilling’s study were African-American, and the majority of respondents also used crack daily. According to the study, crack has increased the rate of sexual encounters for money and cocaine. One reason they think this may be the case is because an addict can go through 10-20 hits of crack a day, which means they need more money more often to buy more.[xix] Hunt states in her ethnographic research, “The prostitute samples available to researchers and represented in these studies are of street level or lower status, often minority prostitutes who are more likely to be drug users than the more costly call girls.”[xx] This study insinuates that more women of color are available to researchers because women of color more often have this experience. This explains why the majority of respondents to Schilling’s study were African-American women.

In the chapter “Life Story: Michelle Riddle (grad. 2003)” of Sacred Shelter: Thirteen Journeys of Homelessness and Healing, Riddle tells her story as an African-American woman that became addicted to crack. She got addicted to crack in 1987 after being introduced to it by her husband, Darnell, who was already an addict. In page 115, because she realizes that he was selling their groceries to get money to feed his addiction, she tells him instead, “Go sell yourself.”[xxi] This demonstrates that it was known and common for people to sell their bodies for drugs. Later, in page 117, she is homeless. She needs money and does not want to steal; therefore, she says “The only thing I had to offer people was me, and that’s what I did.”[xxii] She recognized that she was poor and addicted to drugs, so she engaged in sex work in order to afford her addiction, like she had suggested Darnell do. This shows that for Riddle, sex work was a result of her drug addiction. 

Before becoming homeless and making her addiction to crack her main focus, Riddle gave two of her children to their father and one of them to Darnell’s mother in order to give them a better life. However, as a result of exchanging sex for drugs after this, Riddle became pregnant two separate times. She left both babies in the hospital after giving birth because she felt that she was not equipped to care for them given her addiction and economic status.[xxiii] Riddle did what she thought was best as a mother and crack addict.

Because of the discourse that ties women to motherhood in American society, it is important to note this aspect of how women addicted to crack were viewed at the time. According to DuRose’s chapter “Research Context” in The Governance of Female Drug Users: Women’s Experiences of Drug Policy, in the 1980s and 1990s, American society was very concerned for the wellbeing of babies with mothers addicted to crack. She states, “In 1985 a case study by Ira Chasnoff in the US, which reported the damaging effects of cocaine use during pregnancy set off a massive media response and a subsequent moral panic about an epidemic of ‘crack babies’ in the US.”[xxiv] People were afraid that babies would be harmed by mothers using crack and deemed it a choice. However, they did not publicize the impact that resources had on harming babies to the extent that they publicized drug use. DuRose explains that it is the social meaning of drugs that provoked this response not science. She says that according to NAPW, a fetus is not necessarily harmed by exposure to a drug, nor does that exposure cause a person to function differently in society biologically. Rather, as supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Recent research highlights the multiple determinants of poor maternal [and birth] outcomes, including the amount and number of all drugs used, poverty, poor nutrition, homelessness, lack of prenatal care, domestic violence and other health conditions.”[xxv] This research shows that due to societal meanings attributed to crack, women who are mothers and use the drug are often judged by their impact on the baby directly for drug use and its chemical effects. It is not considered that women who use crack also tend to have a lack of resources, which harms the baby. This relates to how due to the combination of using crack and having a lack of resources, women sell their bodies. 

Essentially, in the 1980s and 1990s, sex work was commonly a result of drug addiction, mostly among African-American women and specifically for crack. O’Daniel and Riddle provide accounts of women who were using prostitution for drug use, not drug use for prostitution. These women were having sex for money to buy drugs. The 1992 national report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and Prevalence of Drug Use in the DC Metropolitan Area Adult and Juvenile Offender Populations, 1991 explain that sometimes people would sell their bodies directly for drugs, usually crack. Schilling and Hunt explained that people who did exchange sex for drugs, whether it was for money to buy it or for drugs directly, were generally African-American women. Women who engaged in sex work to support their drug addiction were viewed as loose prostitutes as shown by Mitchell’s New York article. Because they were dependent on drugs, they were viewed as unprofessional by other sex workers. Because they were tied to motherhood by American society, the US government viewed them as “irresponsible” and “unfit mothers.” Not all African-American women participating in the sex-for-crack phenomenon were mothers, but this was the focus for the US government and media for those that were. Crack use usually meant users were low-income; thus, lacking resources to maintain the health of their babies. It is because of the combination of drug use and low social economic status that many African-American women sold their bodies for sex in the 1980s and 1990s.

[i] David Cantor, Prevalence of Drug Use in the DC Metropolitan Area Adult and Juvenile Offender Populations, 1991. (Rockville, Md. (5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville 20857) :, 1996),

[ii] “What Is Crack Cocaine?: Differences Between Crack and Cocaine,” accessed December 5, 2019,

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Natasha Du Rose, “Research Context,” in The Governance of Female Drug Users, 1st ed., Women’s Experiences of Drug Policy (Bristol University Press, 2015), 20,

[v] Ellen Mitchell, “Crack Addiction Is Forcing Prostitutes Onto the Streets,” The New York Times, February 18, 1990, sec. New York,

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Paul Goldstein, “Crack Pipe as Pimp: An Ethnographic Investigation of Sex-for-Crack Exchanges,” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs25, no. 3 (July 1, 1993): 268,

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Alyson O’Daniel, “Urban Poverty Three Ways,” in Holding On, African American Women Surviving HIV/AIDS (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), 81,

[x] Drugs, Crime, and the Justice System :A National Report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. (Washington, D.C. :, 1992),

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Cantor, Prevalence of Drug Use in the DC Metropolitan Area Adult and Juvenile Offender Populations, 1991.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Ibid., 97.

[xvi] Ibid., 98.

[xvii] Robert Schilling et al., “Sexual Risk Behavior of Incarcerated, Drug-Using Women, 1992,” Public Health Reports (1974-) 109, no. 4 (1994): 540.

[xviii] Ibid., 544.

[xix] Ibid., 545.

[xx] Dana E. Hunt, “Drugs and Consensual Crimes: Drug Dealing and Prostitution,” Crime and Justice 13 (1990): 193.

[xxi] Michelle Riddle, “Life Story:,” in Sacred Shelter, ed. SUSAN CELIA GREENFIELD, 1st ed., Thirteen Journeys of Homelessness and Healing (Fordham University, 2019), 115,

[xxii] Ibid., 117.

[xxiii] Ibid., 120.

[xxiv] Du Rose, “Research Context,” 19.

[xxv] Ibid., 20.