Last week we talked a bit about early America and the issues that drugs and alcohol had caused for people here. We also talked about how the viewpoint of people in terms of the way they saw people with addiction/alcohol issues were seen. Public opinion had started to move toward condemnation of the person with addiction. We became less interested in helping and moved toward punishing people.
This week we are going to through the early and mid 20th century
The Temperance Movement- You can’t talk about recovery history without talking about the Temperance Movement and Prohibition. In 1920 the 18th amendment, or Volstead Act, was passed, making it illegal (in some areas) to possess or use alcohol.
One of the biggest backers of this was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The WTCU wasn’t involved in just prohibition. They also fought for women’s rights, education and a living wage. Grateful you don’t have to work more then 8 hours a day without compensation? Thank the WTCU.
The WTCU had many famous members. Frances Willard who was the president for several years, wrote a number of books on the movement, and was instrumental in many positive changes for women. Perhaps the most famous woman from the WTCU was Carrie Nation.
Carrie Nation was an imposing figure, standing 6ft and weighing around 175lb. She also believed she had been ordained by God to destroy saloons. Carrie’s first husband died of alcoholism. She remarried in 1874 to a minister, and around June 5th 1900 she had what she believed was her vision from God directing her to destroy saloons. After one of her subsequent arrests for doing this her husband at the time told her she should just take a hatchet as she could do more damage. Her response was, “ “That is the most sensible thing you have said since I married you.” They were divorced in 1901 (Wikipedia).
As Carrie’s work grew she frequently went alone on her rampages, but was joined at times by other women who saw her as doing “Gods work.”. She would come bursting through the doors of a saloon in broad daylight, pleasantly telling the men there she was there to save their souls. She paid her bail with money she made from speaking engagements and selling souvenir hatchets.
Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914- The passage of this law was the start of a movement that carried on for decades, and still has very real implications for people with addiction issues. The law basically required an accounting of all opium and it’s derivatives from the time it entered the country. Doctors, pharmacists, dentist, veterinarians, etc… were required to keep written records of every person dispensed opiates. The government of course had access to all these records and knew who was getting what and how much.
Many of the people these doctors were treating were people with addiction issues. Issues that had developed from the original prescriptions given by those same doctors. By 1920 the supreme court stated that addiction was not a disease and therefore under one of the stipulations of the Harrison Narcotic Act it was ILLEGAL to treat people with addiction. Some doctors did go to prison over this and by 1923 75% of all the women in prison were there as a result of a violation of the Harrison Narcotic Act (Prescription Painkillers: History, Pharmacology, and Treatment (The Library of Addictive Drugs) Marvin D Sepalla MD 2010).
May 12th 1935- A lot of people who go to 12 step meetings will recognize this as the day of the first meeting between Bill Wilson and Dr Bob Smith, the cofounding members of Alcoholics Anonymous, which grew to expand to dozens of other 12 step programs and was cited by none other then Stephen Hawking as being one of the greatest contributions of the 20 century.
The Narcotic Farm. In that same year (1935) the federal government (at the behest of several prison wardens who had no idea what to do with the influx of new addicts that were creating havoc in their prison systems) opened two federal prisons for drug addicts. Also known as “Narco,” “The Farm,” or “The Cure,” it was designed to be a prison hospital were convicted addicts could be sent for treatment.
While several people were helped by the program, there were also more dastardly secrets being kept including drug testing on the inmates. The CIA funded research on using LSD as an integration tool. To put this in context you have to imagine a person coming to the “farm” from some place like New York City for either court ordered or voluntary treatment, and being told you could go to a work detail on the farm (most of these city born people had never even seen a cow much less worked on an actual farm) or you could be part of drug trials. Imagine your surprise that the former choice was pretty popular.
In the course of my career I have been fortunate enough to have worked with two people who did a stretch of time in the Lexington prison. I was able to sit down with one of them for a session and ask her about her experiences there. She told me, “When I was a younger woman I had gotten into trouble for forging checks, stealing social security numbers, and the like (she was doing identity theft before they even called it that). Of course all the money was to feed my drug habit. So when I was arrested and taken in front of the judge he told me ‘ You can do 10 years or you can take the cure.’ Naturally I took the cure. The next day two federal marshals escorted me, in handcuffs from Oregon to Lexington in the plane.” She recalled her stay with fond memories. She said had not been asked to participate in drug trials but remembers that she was required to attend daily group therapy and have a job doing something.
Eventually in the 1970’s the farm was shut down after news of the drug testing surfaced. Thanks to their work though, we now have the clinical definition of addiction as a disease and not a moral failing.
On an interesting side note; at one time the prison had what was considered to be the premier jazz band in the nation due to the number of jazz musicians that went there for heroin addiction. Sadly no recordings of the band survived.
Next week we will finish this series up and move forward into modern times in recovery including medication assisted treatment which has proved very successful in treating people with opiate dependence.
All of our counselors and Suboxone doctors are well versed in the benefits of medication assisted treatment and we will do our best to tailor a program of recovery that works with you and your schedule to help you get the results you want.