Literature Program

Friday, September 23, 2011 at 4:00 p.m.


University at Buffalo Humanities Institute and Hallwalls present

David Herzberg

Scholars at Hallwalls: The Drug War in the Medicine Cabinet: Prescription Drug Addiction in the Age of Miracle Pills

David Herzberg
Assistant Professor, History
University at Buffalo

The Drug War in the Medicine Cabinet: Prescription Drug Addiction in the Age of Miracle Pills

Why have vast and growing markets for prescription uppers, downers, and narcotics characterized America's "war against drugs"?  Licit drug abuse has always dwarfed "street" drug problems, yet drug war scholarship focuses almost exclusively on heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.  I correct this with a history of prescription drug abuse and addiction in the 20th century U.S. focusing on drug providers (manufacturers, marketers, prescribers, and traffickers); drug users; and others engaged with the issue (addiction treatment experts, journalists, politicians, and activists).  Their stories complicate the drug-medicine divide, and provide important context and framing for understanding American drug wars—just as studies of masculinity and whiteness are crucial to understanding gender and race.  They contribute to the history of health and illness by exposing how the modern medical system was built in part by monopolizing the provision of legal drugs.  And they reveal a forgotten—but useful—history of pro- and anti-drug campaigns, cultural tropes of addiction, and treatment programs relatively free of racially-charged drug war politics.  Based on extensive research into published and archival historical documents, this project will be the first sustained look at the long history of the licit drug cultures that are regularly "discovered" as new and ominous social problems.

David Herzberg teaches and writes about modern U.S. history, with a particular emphasis on medicines, drugs, popular culture, and consumerism. He is the author of Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac and a number of articles on licit and illicit markets for prescription medicines. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.