Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America

Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America

Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America

Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America

Excerpt

Within the span of a century the pattern of opiate addiction in the United States has undergone a transformation so profound diat it has altered the very ways in which we think and feel about the problem of addiction. During die nineteentii century the typical opiate addict was a middleaged white woman of the middle or upper class. Mary Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical play, Long Day's Journey into Night, exemplified the characteristics of this generation of addicts: female, outwardly respectable, long-suffering—and dioroughly addicted to morphine. But from roughly 1895 to 1935 the Mary Tyrones of diis country were supplanted by a new and radically different sort of user. Lower-class urban males, down-and-outs like Frankie Machine, the husding, poker-dealing junkie of Nelson Algren's Man With the Golden Arm, became increasingly conspicuous and were identified in the public mind witii the problem of opiate addiction. Gone was the stereotype of the addicted matron; in its place stood that of the street criminal. What brought about such a dramatic change?

For liberal critics of American narcotic policy (including Charles E. Terry, Alfred R. Lindesmitii, Rufus King, Morris Ploscowe, Edwin M. Schur, William Butier Eldridge, Edward M. Brecher, Norman H. Clark, and otiiers) the answer was relatively simple. Widi varying degrees of emphasis, these audiorities stressed that the transformation had resulted from an abrupt and ill-considered change in the legal status of the addict. During the nineteenth century, the argument runs, opiate addiction, altiiough socially stigmatized, was perfecdy legal. Then, beginning in 1909, widi the enactment of the Smoking Opium Exclusion Act, a series of laws was passed diat made legal access to opiates increasingly difficult. The key statute was the Harrison Narcotic Act, passed late in 1914. Not a prohibition statute per se, the Harrison Act merely required physicians, pharmacists . . .

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