Tag Archives: health/medicine: drugs

Do-It-Yourself Anti-Meth Campaigns in Small Towns

Katrin sent in a set of signs and advertisements, collected at Buzzfeed, urging young people to refrain from doing methamphetamine, or “meth.”

What I found interesting was how many home made signs in rural areas were included.  It suggests that many people in small towns feel that their children are under attack.  Meanwhile, there’s no big money in drug addiction prevention.  Hence the town-specific, home made signs that contrast so starkly to the generic, glossy, high-production value advertising we are so used to seeing.

Many more examples at Buzzfeed.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Industry of the War on Drugs

In Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance, Kai Erikson states,

 …the agencies built by society for preventing deviance are often so poorly equipped for the task that we might well ask why this is regarded as their “real” function in the first place. (p. 14)

He notes that the amount of deviance and crime found in a society is largely related to how many resources we commit to looking for it. And once we’ve created institutions and industries to deal with particular types of deviance, we tend to continuously find enough deviance to continue to justify the system’s existence. If we’ve built a large criminal justice system, that system takes on a self-sustaining life of its own. Even if we eradicated all major crime as we know it, Erikson suggests, the agencies would turn their attention to behaviors we’ve previously ignored or treated as relatively unimportant, finding a new reason for the system’s existence and access to resources.

In the past several decades, fighting the War on Drugs has become an important role of the U.S. criminal justice system. Drug infractions are a major cause of the growth in imprisonment rates and, especially, the racial gap in incarceration.

I thought of Erikson’s insights when I recently saw the trailer for The House I Live In, an upcoming documentary about the impact of the War on Drugs. The trailer highlights the way that low-level drug dealers and addicts are fed as raw material into the criminal justice system. Law enforcement agencies often benefit directly from seizures of cash or property during drug busts, which then becomes property of the agency; additionally, agencies that design programs to target drug use/sales often get access to federal funds for training and equipment that they’d have no way to purchase otherwise:

The War on Drugs is an industry, one with vested interests with a powerful motivation to ensure its continued existence and expansion, regardless of any objective cost-benefit analysis of the consequences of incarcerating such a large proportion of the population or even of the effectiveness of our policies for actually decreasing drug use.

Are Drug Courts the Solution to the Drug Problem?

The first drug court started in Miami in 1989 as an effort to stop the cycle of drug addiction and crime.  The program brought together judges, prosecuting and defense attorneys, addiction counselors, and social workers to collaboratively build an individualized treatment program.  Rather than sending people to jail, the drug court program was designed to treat addiction while participants lived in the community.  Drug courts have become an increasingly common way for communities to engage with low-level drug offenders.

Seeking to raise awareness and support for drug courts, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals has released a series of PSAs entitled, “All Rise.”  Using a mix of celebrities and drug court judges, these commercials assert that 75% of drug court participants are never arrested again.

The promise is clear.  Drug courts not only treat addiction, they also treat a number of social problems (“no more families torn apart… no more neglect… no more overdoses”).

Are drug courts really this successful?

The truth is, we still don’t know.  The 75% success statistic comes from a study published in 2003.  The authors report that only 27.5% of drug court participants had been re-arrested and charged with a serious crime within two years.  So, we don’t know what re-arrest rates look like after that two-year period and the data doesn’t include arrests for minor crimes or arrests for serious crimes that did not result in a charge.  This is a far cry from the claim made in the video: that 75% of drug court participants are never arrested again.

The claims asserted in the “All Rise” campaign, then, should be treated with caution.  That said, drug courts are a significant move away from punitiveness for addicted offenders. Increasing the time to reoffending is a very positive step for the offender, for the community, and for the criminal justice system.  Additionally, most recidivism occurs within three years of release, so if the drug court program is helping participants to make it past this milestone it may indeed lead to some graduates leaving criminality altogether.

But before we turn to drug courts as “the” solution, we need more research on the effectiveness of drug courts.  Women and Caucasians fare better in the program than men and people of color.  And large courts tend to be more effective than small courts. Nevertheless, since the 1990s drug courts have spread across the nation to all major cities and many medium and small-sized cities, some of which have limited resources and less dedication.  All Rise’s enthusiasm should be tempered with a critical eye aimed at making these programs work well, and for as many people as possible.


Kimberly Baker is an assistant professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Ithaca College.  She teaches classes in crime, deviance, and law.  Her research is on drugs, addiction, and U.S. drug policy, including drug courts.

Spotlight or Flame? Reflections on Whitney Houston

When I learned of Whitney Houston’s untimely death, I was in the process of re-reading James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues.” Sonny, like so many entertainers struggled with addiction and the rigors of being an artist. I couldn’t help but think of Whitney. The tragedy of her death has resonated throughout our culture in both artistic and social contexts. It also ripped the curtain off the destructive underbelly of celebrity and its trappings.

We engage in the public consumption of images of the rich and famous as a way of life now. They live under an intensely bright and hot spotlight. Baldwin relates this quite eloquently.  In the process of Sonny’s recovery from heroin addiction, he returns to doing what he loves best –playing jazz piano. Sonny’s older brother agrees to accompany him to one of his performances. The brother, seated in a dark corner of the club, watches Sonny and his band mates prepare to perform. While sitting there he contemplates just how many of them have struggled with addiction like Sonny and how they would negotiate Sonny’s homecoming performance. The narration reads:

Then I watched… while they horsed around, standing just below the bandstand. The light from the bandstand spilled just a little short of them and, watching them laughing and gesturing and moving about, I had the feeling that they, nevertheless, were being most careful not to step into that circle of light too suddenly; that if they moved into the light too suddenly, without thinking, they would perish in flame.

Baldwin provides a powerful metaphor for the dangers of the spotlight and stepping into it too soon. When I read that passage, I thought of this image of Whitney from her 2009 American Music Awards performance. She sang “I Didn’t Know my Own Strength.” It was a “comeback” performance in which Whitney was trying to reclaim her image. She is wearing white, which looks absolutely beautiful against her cinnamon caramel skin. The stage is black and Whitney is lit from the back with a piercingly bright spotlight. In that moment we can see her balancing darkness with light, hope with pain, insularity with exposure.

We loved her voice. We rooted for her comeback. But perhaps she moved into the spotlight too suddenly. Perhaps the flame from the light burned her in places no one could see. As I write this, there have been no rulings on the cause of her death. So I do not want to speculate what contributed to her untimely passing. But I love this image because it is how I would like to remember Whitney. Regal, angelic, light and dark, embodying the very essence of humanity and its many contradictions.


Stacie McCormick, PhD, is a literature scholar whose work focuses primarily on African Diaspora and Women’s literature. Presently she is working on a project exploring the black female body and how it is represented in print and visual culture (photographs, artist renderings, the theatrical stage, etc.).

Income Inequality is Bad for Society. Really Bad.

The mysterious SocProf, who writes The Global Sociology Blog, offered a nice review of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett‘s book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.  Wilkinson and Pickett offer transnational research showing how, exactly, income inequality is related to bad outcomes on average.  In other words, as SocProf puts it, ”…egalitarianism is not a bleeding heart’s wet dream but rather the only rational course of action in terms of public policy.”  The 11 graphs, available at the Equality Trust website, speak for themselves.

Societies with more income inequality have higher infant death rates than other societies:

Societies with more income inequality have higher rates of mental illness than other societies:

Societies with more income inequality have a higher incidence of drug use than other societies:

Societies with more income inequality have a higher high school drop out rate than other societies:

Societies with more income inequality imprison a larger proportion of their population than other societies:

Societies with more income inequality have a higher rate of obesity than other societies:

Individuals in societies with more income inequality are less likely to be in a different class than their parents compared to other societies:

Individuals in societies trust others less than people in other societies:

Societies with more income inequality have higher rates of homicide than other societies:

Societies with more income inequality give less in foreign aid than other societies:

Children in societies with more income inequality do less well than children in other societies:

The authors sum it up pretty simply: : “Th[e] dissatisfaction [measured in this data is] a cost which the rich impose on the rest of society.”

And they have a clear policy proposal relevant to the current economic crisis.

[This is] a clear warning for those who might want to place low public expenditure and taxation at the top of their priorities. If you fail to avoid high inequality, you will need more prison and more police. You will have to deal with higher rates of mental illness, drug abuse and every other kind of problems. If keeping taxes and benefits down leads to wider income differences, the need to deal with ensuing social ills may  force you to raise public expenditure to cope.

Readers Ana and Dmitriy T.M. sent in a TED talk of Richard Wilkinson discussing the relationship between income inequality and social problems:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Prescriptions for Poverty: Medical Insecurity as a Measure of Economic Insecurity

Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

Poverty is usually described as a status, as there are people below and above the poverty line. We need to do more to capture and represent the experience of poverty.

There are ways this can be done even in a single survey question, such as this one: ”During the past 12 months, was there any time when you needed prescription medicine but didn’t get it because you couldn’t afford it?” Below are the percentages answering affirmatively, by official poverty-line status.

Percentage of Adults Aged 18-64 Who Did Not Get Needed Prescription Drugs Because of Cost, by Poverty Status (National Health Interview Survey, 1999-2010)

This is not the same as not having any of the prescription drugs you need. What it indicates is economic insecurity rather than deprivation per se, a more nuanced measure than simply being above or below (some percentage of) the poverty line.

Prohibition and Medicinal Alcohol

In 1919 the U.S. federal government passed the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.”  Alcohol was banned. Well, kind of.  Two groups were still allowed to buy and disseminate alcohol: clergy and physicians (source).

Clergy were still allowed to purchase wine for sacrament (reportedly leading to many a falsely-devotional newly-certified minister, priest, or rabbi illegally selling bucket loads of liquor to the rest of us). And physicians were allowed to prescribe liquor for medicinal purposes. Alcohol, it was believed, was energizing and it was used to treat anemia, tuberculosis, typhoid, pneumonia, and high blood pressure. Pharmacies did a booming business in those years, as you might imagine.

According to the Rose Melnick Medical Museum:

This new law required physicians to obtain a special permit from the prohibition commissioner in order to write prescriptions for liquor.The patient could then legally buy liquor from the pharmacy or the physician. However, the law also regulated how much liquor could be prescribed to each patient.

Patients of all ages used alcohol. A common adult dose was about 1 ounce every 2-3 hours. Child doses ranged from 1/2 to 2 teaspoons every three hours.

Physicians prescribed their “medicine” with prescription pads doled out by the commissioner:

Unfortunately for some, you couldn’t prescribe beer.

Even after Prohibition was lifted in 1933, pharmacies sold plenty of liquor.  In many places women were banned from bars and saloons, so while men visited the bartender, women visited the doctor.  Visit our post on The Stormin’ of the Sazerac to see a great vintage picture of a group of women enjoying the famous cocktail on the first day they were allowed to drink at The Roosevelt Bar, New Orleans.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Pemberton’s French Wine of Coca

In the late 1800s, one suffering from impotence, addiction to morphine, or belly aches might be prescribed John Pemberton’s French Wine of Coca.   The wine concoction contained caffeine and 8 1/2 milligrams of cocaine (equivalent to snorting about 1/2 line).



Prohibition’s arrival in Atlanta in 1886 led Pemberton to re-write his recipe to exclude the alcohol.  Pemberton advertised it as the “great national temperance beverage.”  In 1903, when cocaine was outlawed, Pemberton had to rework his recipe again.  Coca Cola, as we know it, was born.

See The Digital Deli Online for more.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.