Academic journal article Social Justice

Medical Science, the State, and the Construction of the Juvenile Drug Addict in Early Soviet Russia

Academic journal article Social Justice

Medical Science, the State, and the Construction of the Juvenile Drug Addict in Early Soviet Russia

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH JUVENILE DRUG ADDICTION IS GENERALLY RECOGNIZED AS A GLOBAL contemporary problem, it is often presented in largely simplified form. Insufficient attention has been paid to the historical roots of drug addiction and its various cultural forms (Lebina 1999). This is surprising, since interdisciplinary research on the history of drug addiction allows us to explore the intersection of medical theory, practical policy, social context, and cultural values. However, even historians who have looked at the social developments and legal changes related to the topic have retained an essentialist understanding of drug addiction (as an unequivocal social problem to be "solved" through government intervention) and have failed to see existing links between changes in medical and legal research and the evolution of narcotics policy. A tendency to overestimate the state's role in managing the problem is quite common and has additional relevance for the study of juvenile groups, who traditionally are viewed as requiring paternalist care and protection. Yet some scholars of contemporary drug addiction have questioned existing regimes of prohibition and the involvement of medical professionals in their elaboration, implementation, and preservation (Lynch 2001; Nadelmann 1989; Szasz 1992). Over the last 50 years, numerous studies of specific features of juvenile deviant subcultures have also appeared (starting with Cohen 1956).

In the Russian context, the emergence of juvenile drug addiction as a social problem can be traced back to the years between the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the end of the 1920s. This relatively short period witnessed a radical change in medical and legal attitudes toward drugs and addiction. Before World War I, one could easily buy cocaine or heroin at pharmacies, and there was practically no government regulation or legislation concerning recreational drugs. Even when certain psychoactive substances were indeed regulated, the rationale had to do with limiting access to poisons (Lincoln 1983, 351; Lebina 1999, 28). The basic terms used to describe drug addiction were themselves being negotiated in this period, and for many practitioners the problem of hashish or opium abuse was essentially the same as the excessive consumption of tea or coffee. Moreover, physicians formulated theories by observing their own feelings and behavior after taking drugs (Danillo 1894, 18-21; Lange 2009, 487-88,494, 506, 511). (1) A concern about drugs--understood as "poisons of civilization" associated with decadence and degeneration--emerged; but drug addiction (especially juvenile drug addiction) was not perceived as a major social problem in prewar Russia. By the early 1930s, however, the market for recreational drugs was heavily regulated, the sale of drugs was criminalized, and drug addicts themselves were sometimes labeled sotsanomaliki (socially anomalous people) and forcibly sent to special camps (Lebina 1999, 32-33).

Accompanying this development, proponents of prohibition such as physicians and criminologists frequently invoked the image of the juvenile drug addict and its associated dangers. The reason this image occupied such a prominent place is that according to some statistics, drug addiction in early Soviet Russia was primarily a youth problem, with 60 percent of drug users below the age of 25 (ibid., 30). An analysis of the construction of the juvenile drug addict in early Soviet medical texts also reveals a great deal about the influence that physicians exercised over practical narcotics policy, their collaboration with the state, and the reasons behind the eventual criminalization of the drug trade.

Accordingly, this article focuses on medical (and, to a lesser degree, medical-legal) texts (2) from the period to establish how drug use by adolescents was constructed as a form of delinquency and a specific social problem requiring immediate intervention. I examine legal documents and other primary sources that reflect changes in practical narcotics policy and increasing government regulation. …

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