Once again, drugs are a big thing on the small screen. As in years past, drug use and dealing is on full display in a number of the shows up for awards at this year’s Emmys. Here’s a look at the role addiction and drug use play in just a handful of the series up for Emmys this past weekend.
Better Call Saul
Every so often, a fringe political movement wins mainstream acceptance so quickly that its codification in law — once at hand — feels both obviously correct and long overdue.
Another idea now stands poised to follow a similar trajectory: The War on Drugs has created suffering on an unimaginable scale, with no discernible benefit. “If this were a war fought for four decades by any other generals with this outcome, we’d have run up the white flag years ago,” David Simon, creator of The Wire, told Salon in a phone interview.
Drug prohibition has criminalized an entire portion of our population, poisoned relations with foreign nations and spawned endless cycles of violence in our inner cities. It has done essentially nothing to reduce drug supply or rates of addiction.
America is slowly waking up to this reality. As with our gradual embrace of the gay community, the first steps are taken in the world of fiction. This cultural vanguard (“Sex and the City” and “Will & Grace” then; “The Wire” and “Orange is the New Black” now) opens the possibility for a new sort of political discussion, one that in turn leads to even wider public awareness through a virtuous feedback cycle.
Of course, it’s impossible to predict future trends in public opinion with certainty. And serious reforms of our drug policies — the kind that looks beyond marijuana and to harder drugs — are still met with what the poet William Blake called the “mind-forged manacles” of superstition.
But the signs are unmistakable. The foundations of our insane drug war are beginning to crack; the status quo is already being rocked — chipped at by an array of motivated advocates, increasingly confident in the clarity of their logic and the righteousness of their cause.
The day we decriminalize all drug use may not arrive in this decade, or even the next one. But it is coming.
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Americans do not yet believe in the decriminalization of all drugs. But they increasingly hold a set of views that makes this major shift in our drug policy — one that would treat drug users as victims of addiction rather than criminals to be punished — all but inevitable.
The clearest evidence of this comes from a 2014 Pew report, “America’s New Drug Policy Landscape,” which identified a growing sea change in public attitudes about punishing drug use. In 2001, only 47 percent of Americans supported states that moved away from mandatory prison terms for non-violent drug users. In 2014, just 13 years later, the number of Americans approving an end to mandatory minimumshad soared to 63 percent — a rapid change that mirrors shifting views on gay marriage. Overall, Pew found, a full 67 percent of Americans now say that the government “should focus more on providing treatment” for cocaine and heroin users than prosecuting users.
That number will only increase as older generations die off. Americans younger than 30 prefer treatment over prosecution for hard drug users by a huge 77 to 20 margin. Only about half of Americans over 65 years old support treatment over prosecution. Across the board, research on drug attitudes reveals these sharp demographic splits.
A feature piece in Politico this July argued that the summer of 2015 “could be viewed historically as the tipping point” of the prohibition of marijuana, the first time the Drug Enforcement Administration “found itself in unfamiliar territory as a target of congressional scrutiny, budget cuts and scorn.” That’s accurate, but it’s also too narrow a conclusion.
The current transformation of our drug attitudes is only beginning with the gradual repeal of marijuana prohibition, which represents just a fraction of the drug war, says Bill Martin, director of the Drug Policy Program at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
Martin has been trying to change our nation’s drug policy for 35 years. No period during that span comes close to rivaling the pace of change in attitudes over the last five years, he says. He notes that a recent poll found that just 3 percent of Americans think we’re winning the War on Drugs, that myths around drug use are starting to fade, and that decades-old “fear tactics” have lost their potency.
“There’s a lot of loose bricks in the wall of resistance to change,” he says.
“Don’t stop here!” yells Raoul Duke as he swats at invisible flying creatures in Hunter S. Thompson’s semi-autobiographical novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “This is bat country!”
If all you know about LSD (full name: lysergic acid diethylamide) comes from that 1972 cult classic, you’re still armed to the teeth with anecdotal knowledge about hallucinogens. But here at Substance.com, we decided to take a deep dive into the history of hallucinogens on a bet that the psychedelic ’60s were the least of it. We were not disappointed. Here are 10 of our mind-bending finds:
1. The ancients were familiar with hallucinogens and even had special paraphernalia for their use. In 2008, two archeologists made a “breakthrough” discovery when they uncovered equipment used for sniffing hallucinogenic chemicals. The implements, which were found on the island of Carriacou in the Antilles, were shallow bowls with two tube-like projections that match up pretty well with human nostrils.
It is believed the bowl was used to inhale cohoba, a psychedelic made from beans that grow on a tree in the mimosa species. The bowls were dated back to 400 BC—much earlier than when hallucinogenic use was previously thought to have begun.
2. Mescaline, not one of the more commonly used hallucinogens today, was one of the first psychedelic compounds to be isolated. After hearing about some work done in 1888 by a fellow German toxicologist who had begun studying the peyote cactus, pharmacologist Arthur Heffter decided to investigate further. Upon isolating the plant’s alkaloids, Heffter did a series of self-experiments to determine which ones were active.
In 1897, after a few years of tripping in the name of science, Heffter published a paper identifying mescaline as the primary psychoactive compound contained in peyote. Mescaline is structurally somewhat different from hallucinogens like psilocybin and LSD and is instead in the same family as drugs like methamphetamine and ecstasy.
3. In 1914, a church was formed to preserve the use of peyote. Native Americans have used peyote for hundreds of years and, in fact, the word “peyote” is derived from the Nahuatl word for cactus, peyotl. Around 1885 the Native American use of peyote developed into a distinct religion, but the substance was quickly banned by US government agents in 1888.
Religious adherents fought efforts to curtail its use, and in 1914 peyote groups got together and incorporated as the First-Born Church of Jesus Christ in 1914. Four years later, peyotists formed the Native American Church, which is still around today—and now, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, their use of peyote as a religious rite is federally protected.
4. The psychotropic effects of LSD were discovered by accident in 1943. Swiss chemist Albert Hoffmann had created the substance in 1938 while working at a research lab at the drug company Sandoz, but didn’t realize its effects until five years later when he unintentionally ingested some. He later wrote in his lab notes:
“Last Friday, April 16, 1943, I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant, intoxicated-like condition characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.”
Three days later, on April 19, Hoffmann deliberately dosed himself and then rode his bicycle home while enjoying the second acid trip ever known to mankind. That date has since come to be celebrated by acid-heads as “Bicycle Day.”
5. Silver-screen legend Cary Grant was a huge proponent of LSD. Well before acid became popular for recreational use, psychiatrists in California started using it for therapy, sometimes charging as much as $100 a trip. Grant was turned on to the stuff in the late 1950s and, by some accounts, he turned Harvard professor-turned-acid guru Timothy Leary on to it as well. Grant went to great lengths to publicize his belief in LSD’s perceived therapeutic properties—in 1959, he was on the cover of Look magazine with the headline “The Curious Story Behind the New Cary Grant,” and in 1960 LSD received a version of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for being one of the secrets to Grant’s “second youth.”
Grant wasn’t the only big name in entertainment and the arts using the drug for therapy. Director Sidney Lumet, Grant’s ex-wife Betsy Drake, up-and-coming star Jack Nicholson, actor James Coburn, actress Rita Moreno, classical composer Andre Previn, erotic writer Anais Nin, philosopher Alan Watts and novelist Aldous Huxley were just a few of the names who dabbled with the drug.
6. Some movers and shakers in the business world got into mushrooms in the mid-‘50s and were instrumental in spreading their recreational use. Leading the push was Gordon Wasson, the vice-president of J.P Morgan & Company, who started shrooming in 1955 during a trip to Mexico. Two years later, he decided to share his fungal love with the world by writing an article for Life called “Seeking the Magic Mushroom.”
Wasson went on to turn Time/Life founder Henry Luce on to the joy of magic mushrooms and he later induced Albert Hoffmann to isolate and identify psilocybin as one of the active ingredients in mushrooms. In Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, Andy Letcher credits Wasson with spreading the joy of mushrooms worldwide, writing that Wasson “may have failed in his attempt to prove the existence of an ancient mushrooming cult, but in doing so he gave the world a modern one.”
7. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the US government tested acid on people—yep, American citizens—without their knowledge. The project, MK-ULTRA, isn’t just the stuff of conspiracy theorist fantasy and druggie lore—it’s an actual thing that the government later admitted to. The experiments went on from 1953 to 1964 and featured such stranger-than-fiction procedures as creating a safehouse where prostitutes would lure johns for the purpose of serving them acid-laced drinks while agents watched from behind two-way mirrors.
In one incident, an army scientist was dosed with a huge amount of the drug and later ended up leaping out a 10th-story window to his death. The supposed reason for the clandestine experiments was to gain a better understanding of the drug that agents believed the Soviets and other Communist countries were using to brainwash captured Americans.
8. PCP was originally used as a general anesthetic. Although the same is true of Quaaludes and ketamine, in the case of PCP it’s unexpected because when used recreationally, PCP is known for sometimes causing psychotic and violent behavior rather than zoning you out. PCP (phencyclidine) was first synthesized in 1926, and in the 1950s Park Davis Laboratories began using it as an anesthetic for animals. Trademarked under the name Sernyl, the drug was briefly used as a general anesthetic for humans until adverse side effects caused it to be taken off the market in 1965. However, it continued to be used on animals under the name Sernylan until 1978.
9. In 1969, well-known TV show host Art Linkletter famously blamed his daughter Diane’s suicide on a bad acid trip. Diane, who was 20 at the time of her death, jumped from the sixth story of her Hollywood apartment building. Art called it a murder, telling the media, “She was murdered by the people who manufacture and sell LSD.”
In fact, toxicology reports showed that Diane had no LSD in her system at the time of her death, and friends reported that she had been deeply depressed. Her father’s false story, which grew into a publicity campaign, helped fuel anti-LSD hysteria.
10. Although most people can barely function on LSD, Major League Baseball’s Dock Ellis famously pitched a no-hitter while tripping in 1970. Ellis was a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher already known for his drug use and outlandish styles, but he made druggie history during one particular game against the San Diego Padres. The day before the game, Ellis dropped some acid upon arriving at the San Diego airport. He spent the night at a friend’s house, where he continued to take more acid and lost track of time. The afternoon of June 12, his friend’s girlfriend woke him, frantically screaming, “You have to pitch today!”
“What happened to yesterday?” Ellis answered. He hopped a jet and made it in the nick of time, albeit while tripping face.
Ellis, who died in 2007, described the experience in an interview for the 2014 “dockumentary” No No, about his tumultuous addiction-to-recovery life: “So there I was out there, high as a Georgia Pine, trippin’ on acid. I really didn’t see the hitters. All I could tell was if they were on the right side or the left side. As far as seeing the target, the catcher put tape on his fingers so I could see the signals. The opposing team and my teammates, they knew I was high. But they didn’t know what I was high on. They didn’t really see it, but I had the acid in me, and I didn’t know what I looked like with that acid. I had lost all concept of time.” Nonetheless, Ellis succeeded in pitching a no-hitter in circumstances that would make any hardcore acid-head proud.
What do Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Justin Bieber, Maya Angelou and well over 100 million Americans all have in common? They’ve all smoked pot. Throughout its history, marijuana has attracted plenty of unexpected users and proponents. And much of the history of greenery is now familiar to us—thanks to History Channel specials, the burgeoning legalization movement and the popularity of anti-pot propaganda films like Reefer Madness. But even if you’re intimately familiar with the plant in all its forms, we’re willing to wager that some of these facts will surprise you.
1. The first known potheads lived in ancient China, circa 2,727 BC. Emperor Shen Nung helpfully compiled an encyclopedic list of drugs and their uses, which includes “ma,” or cannabis. But ancient Chinese weed consumption is indicated by more than just written records: Six years ago, archaeologists on a dig in the Gobi Desert found the world’s oldest pot stash in the grave of a shaman of the Gushi tribe. The purpose of the cannabis was easily identified because the male plant parts, which are less psychoactive, had been removed.
The Chinese certainly weren’t the only ancient culture to enjoy toking. The Greeks and Romans used marijuana, as did the citizens of the Islamic empires. In 1545, Spanish conquistadors introduced it to the New World when they began planting cannabis seed in Chile to be used for fiber.
2. You probably heard that a bunch of the Founding Fathers grew weed, but did you know the details? Technically, you can’t really classify them as pot farmers because they were growing hemp, which is not the same cannabis variety that you’ll find in a joint. Hemp and pot are the same species—cannabis sativa—but the hemp variety has a lower THC content and was useful instead as a source of fiber for those distinguished dudes’ duds.
But debate continues about whether the Founding Fathers actually smoked cannabis in addition to growing it. While many traditional sources say there’s no evidence of it, other, less buttoned-down ones—including, predictably, High Times—contend that there is.
One factor that muddies the water and the Internet is an oft-repeated Thomas Jefferson “quote” that experts agree is not legit. Although he was a hemp farmer, Thomas Jefferson never said: “Some of my finest hours have been spent sitting on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.”
Admittedly, that’s a pretty difficult image to forget.
3. Hashish, which is a compressed or purified form of pot resin, became faddish in the mid-1800s, as a result of its prominence in popular novels of the era, including two classics: The Count of Monte Cristo and Arabian Nights, an early English translation of One Thousand and One Nights.
In one scene fit to make any DARE instructor shudder, the Count of Monte Cristo virtually coerces another character into a mind-bending hashish adventure, urging, “Taste the hashish, guest, taste the hashish!”
Arabian Nights meanwhile contains multiple references to hashish, including the story “The Tale of the Hashish Eater.” Both Monte Cristo and Arabian Nights found wide audiences due to their exotic settings, foreign cultures and adventure plots that heightened the allure of the drug described on the pages. Contemporary readers who would never had the opportunity to visit Persia could at least cop a little bit of Persia off seafaring vessels from foreign ports.
4. Pot’s reputation began to go south when the first English-language newspaper started in Mexico in the 1890s. Sensationalized stories of marijuana-induced violence gave the drug a bad rap, although pot didn’t really hit the US until after the Mexican Revolution in 1910, when a flood of Mexican immigrants moved north, bringing their favorite weed.
US groups began spreading stories of violence induced by the drug, playing on anti-immigrant sentiment, and referring to the drug by the Mexican-sounding name “marijuana.” This highly racialized propaganda led to widespread fear of the drug, which grew into a panic in the early 1930s when government research “determined” that marijuana-induced criminal acts were “primarily committed by ‘racially inferior’ or underclass communities.”
Interestingly, some of the accounts of violence and crime may not have been entirely fabricated. Just as the myth of the unicorn may have been based on early and inaccurate descriptions of the rhinoceros, the tales may have partly been the result of some confusion regarding plant names. Some media stories of the era conflated marijuana with locoweed, a type of poisonous plant. So it’s just possible that some of the horror stories held a grain of truth—relating to a completely different plant.
5. There is no consensus about where the word “marijuana” came from. The word sounds like a Spanish language cognate, but some etymologists trace its origins to China or India. The plant itself originated in Central Asia, and China and India were the first two regions to begin cultivating it.
One theory is that Chinese immigrants brought the phrase ma ren hua—which translates more or less as “hemp seed flowers”—to Mexico, where it became Spanishized into “marijuana.” Another theory is that Angolan slaves brought the Bantu word for cannabis—ma’kaÃ±a—to the Americas via Brazil and Spanish-speakers later adapted it. Yet another theory traces the word back to the Semitic root mrr.
Whatever its origins, there is some agreement that the first recorded use of a similar term was in a feature called “The American Congo” published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1894. In the article, author John G. Burke used the word “mariguan” to refer to a species of plant included in his description of the flora on the banks of the Rio Grande River between Texas and Mexico.
6. But we do know that the term “pot” entered the lexicon in the 1930s as a shortened form of the Spanish potiguaya, an alcoholic drink in which cannabis buds have been steeped. A literal translation of potiguaya or potacion de guaya is “the drink of grief.”
Other terms are also far easier than “marijuana” to trace. “Ganja,” for example, likely entered the English lexicon in the 1800s when it was borrowed from a similar Hindi word. While words like pot and ganja endured, other terms for cannabis—such as “gage” (17th-century word for a pipe) and “muggles” (used in the 1920s by the New Orleans jazz crowd)—have sadly fallen by the wayside.
7. Henry Ford experimented with the invention of a car that was possibly partially made of hemp. Some pro-pot sites claim that Ford actually developed a hemp-based automobile, but the evidence suggests that they are blowing smoke.
In the early 1940s, Ford developed a plastic car intended to be a lighter, stronger and more affordable alternative to traditional metal vehicles. Newspaper articles stated that the new car was a combination of resin binder and cellulose fiber supposedly drawn from pine fiber, hemp, soybean and ramie. However, The Henry Ford, a museum in Michigan, says that the exact ingredients for the car’s recipe have been lost, so they can’t confirm that hemp was in the mix.
Whether or not Ford’s car contained hemp, current scientists have apparently drawn inspiration from the concept as they work to develop cars made of plant fibers such as hemp and elephant grass.
8. Marijuana was initially criminalized by the federal government in an indirect, de facto way: a 1937 tax act. The act set such high taxes on the purchase of weed that it discouraged people from going through the proper legal channels. And because arrest was the penalty for non-compliance, the tax act essentially criminalized marijuana possession.
In 1969, the act was ruled unconstitutional because paying the federal tax required admitting to the possession of something already made illegal by some state laws—and thus violated the right against self-incrimination spelled out in the Fifth Amendment. The following year the law was repealed and replaced with a measure that fully criminalized marijuana. Prior to the federal bans, though, many states had adopted the Uniform Narcotics Drug Act in the early 1930s, which made pot and other drugs illegal under state law.
Today, in a reversal of that situation, marijuana remains illegal on a federal level but two states—Colorado and Washington—legalized recreational use in 2012. More are likely to follow soon.
9. Popular urban legend has it that the term “420” is a reference to a 1970s police code, but in fact a group of high school kids coined the term. In 1971, five California high school students heard about a plot of pot plants whose owner could no longer tend them. Eager to find the green, sticky treasure, the students agreed to meet outside the school at 4:20 pm to look for the plants until they found them. They never did, even after weeks of hunting.
But their fruitless search would be immortalized. Because their school was in Marin County, a counterculture hotspot, and because the treasure hunters had an indirect contact with Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh, the term 420 gradually became a part of drug culture throughout California and then the country.
10. Alaska effectively legalized marijuana 39 years ago. You might have thought otherwise—especially considering the viral video of Alaskan reporter Charlo Greene quitting on-air last month in order to campaign for marijuana legalization. And policy wonks would insist that pot is technically decriminalized, rather than legalized, in the state. But marijuana in Alaska occupies an interesting legal gray area.
In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court decided that the state’s constitutional right to privacy protects the right of adults to use and possess small amounts of marijuana in their own homes. However, Alaskan criminal law currently bans the possession of even small amounts of pot. As a result, Alaskans can be charged with possession for having pot in their homes—but technically courts should throw out the charges for amounts under four ounces.
This confusing state of affairs may be cleared up very soon, though: Next month, Alaskans go to the polls to vote on an initiative to officially legalize marijuana for recreational use.
The following article first appeared on Substance.com:
Today, we think of it as the highly illegal brown (and sometimes white) powder you score from some shady dude on the corner. But heroin wasn’t always viewed that way. After its discovery in the latter half of the 19th century, it was hailed as something of a wonder drug. Heroin’s fall in status to scourge of society didn’t happen overnight, though, and the drug’s history—and our dramatically evolving views of it—took some surprising twists. What got me into this? Before my arrest in 2010 during my last semester in college, I was addicted to heroin—and oddly, I enjoyed researching it while high. Let’s just say I got a lot of research done.
1. Heroin possession and use were not always criminal. In fact, it was perfectly legal for the first 50 years of its existence, after its discovery in 1874. In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Act made the recreational use of opiates and coca leaf derivatives illegal in the US—one of the first federal efforts to regulate nonmedical drug use. But in practice the act just meant that users now had to get the drug from a doctor. Ten years later, the 1924 Heroin Act made the drug completely illegal, even for medical purposes.
Other countries soon followed suit. Mexico prohibited heroin in 1924, Costa Rica in 1928, Poland in 1931, Spain in 1933 and Bulgaria in 1934. Although the UK made the drug illegal in 1926, doctors could—and still can—prescribe it for withdrawal. Denmark andSwitzerland also allow the prescription use of heroin for addiction treatment, while in Portugal the drug is illegal but the possession of less than a 10-day supply is not considered a criminal offense.
2. Heroin was originally called tetra acetyl morphine. Although that’s quite a mouthful, the chemical name used today—diacetylmorphine—is still pretty ungainly. Why the change? Basically, the original name was the result of a slight scientific misunderstanding.
In 1805, an uneducated pharmacist’s assistant named Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner isolated opium’s active organic alkaloid compound by dissolving the opium in acid and neutralizing it with ammonia. He named his new compound morphine, in homage to Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Serturner published his work in 1806, but initially his findings were largely ignored. Once people finally paid attention, however, the drug caught on in a big way. Merck began manufacturing morphine commercially in 1827, and within three years Britain was importing 22,000 pounds of opium per year in order to make it.
Despite the morphine’s popularity, scientists didn’t accurately understand its structure. In fact, in 1874, when a British chemist namedC.R. Alder Wright first synthesized what we now call heroin, it was still believed that morphine had a double empirical structure. Thus, when Wright was actually adding two acetyl groups per molecule, he thought he was adding four per molecule—and so he named ittetra acetyl morphine to indicate that it required the addition of four acetyl groups onto morphine.
Then, in 1890, the German scientist W. Dankwortt tried making heroin using a different method. When he heated anhydrous morphine with excess acetyl chloride, Dankwortt discovered that morphine actually had a single empirical structure and thus only required two acetyl group (di) instead of four (tetra). That’s why today the chemical name is diacetylmorphine.
3. Bayer started selling the wonder drug under the brand name “Heroin” in 1898. Yep, that’s right, Bayer, the company that first brought us Alka-Seltzer and aspirin. For the first two decades after its first synthesis, heroin had been neglected. Then, Bayer scientist Heinrich Dreser seized on the drug’s potential. After testing it on humans, animals and himself, Dreser had it ready for widespread distribution by 1898. One year later Bayer was already producing a full ton of heroin. The company stopped making heroin in 1913, the year before the government started regulating it.
4. The narcotic’s name comes from the German word for heroic. When Bayer began testing the drug on its workers in the late 1890s, they loved it (no surprise) and said it made them feel heroic—”heroisch.” At the time, the term was used to refer to any particularly strong drug, and even before its effects were well understood, heroin’s strength was readily apparent. Hence, Bayer trademarked “Heroin” and began marketing it worldwide.
5. Heroin was once marketed to—or at least for—kids. At a time when tuberculosis was one of the top three causes of death and 30% of deaths occurred in children under age five, any substance that appeared to improve respiratory health by cutting coughing and easing breathing was bound to be popular. Thus, Bayer launched a child-focused marketing campaign. In 2011, a watchdog group called Coalition Against Bayer Dangers dug up ads from a 1912 Bayer campaign in Spain. One, which shows two unattended children reaching for a bottle of heroin, makes it pretty clear who the intended consumer is.
6. In the late 1800s, most opiate addicts were upper- and middle-class women. One of the main ways that heroin and other opiates were sold was as an active ingredient in cough syrup, which women bought for their medicine cabinets and used for almost any ailment; as a result, they ended up comprising a large portion of the addicted population. Surveys conducted between 1878 and 1885 showed that well over half of US opiate addicts were affluent women. The rate of addiction was almost triple what it would become a century later, during the so-called heroin epidemic of the mid-1990s.
7. Heroin was believed to be less addictive than morphine. In fact, at one point heroin was even used to treat morphine addiction. When Wright first synthesized heroin, he was looking for a non-addictive version of morphine. Later, when Dreser began testing the substance, he concluded that it was not habit-forming. (This error may help explain why, by the end of his life, Dreser was reportedly addicted to it himself.) In 1900, the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal wrote, “It possesses many advantages over morphine…. It’s not hypnotic, and there’s no danger of acquiring a habit.” Whoops!
9. Heroin was once massive in Egypt. Now, Egypt isn’t a place particularly associated with the drug, but in the 1920s, out of a total population of 14 million, an estimated 500,000 people—3.5% of all Egyptians—were addicted to heroin. By contrast, in 2011 only about 1.6% of Americans said they had even tried it.8. The term “junkies” was first applied to heroin users in the 1920s. As heroin’s legal status began changing in the previous decade, addicts in New York City began collecting and selling scrap metal to support themselves and their habit. They spent their days scavenging junk and thus were calledjunkies. (Before they were called junkies, they were often referred to instead as “heroinists” in medical literature.)
It all started in 1916 when cocaine and then heroin were first sold for nonmedical consumption in Egypt. Heroin was sold at rock-bottom prices and caught on like wildfire. Contractors were even paying their workers in heroin. Heroin use spread through all classes of society, peaked in 1929 and then declined due to a combination of new international regulations and the closure of three Turkish heroin-producing factories.
In 1971, two congressman reported that 15% of US serviceman in Vietnam were addicted to heroin. As a result, President Nixon created the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention to address the problem. The head of that office, Jerome Jaffe, contacted psychiatric researcher Lee Robbins to conduct a study. Robbins found even more dramatic results: 20% of soldiers self-identified as addicts. All were kept in Vietnam to dry out before coming home. When Robbins followed up with them after they had been back in the US for a year, she found that only 5% had become addicted again. By contrast, Americans addicted to heroin who dried out in the US had a relapse rate of 95%.
10. It’s widely known that heroin use was huge among American soldiers in Vietnam—but not everyone learned the right lessons from this.
One lesson of this study is that changing the physical, or at least social, environment in which addiction occurs can greatly improve treatment outcomes. Another is that the vast majority of people who have problematic use of a substance, even one as powerful as heroin, can resolve it without relapse.