In this chapter you will explore:


History has recorded numerous events that verify that our present drug problem is not new or unique to us. Drug use and abuse have always been part of society and may be two features that all cultures have in common. People have always exhibited the compulsion to go beyond their consciousness periodically to enhance perceptions, and mood. Meditation, chants, fasting, exercise, orgies, music and dance have all been used to achieve this objective. Our society has also found pleasure in a smoke, a drink, companionship and relief in a pill. Some people have used without experiencing harmful effects but others have ruined lives and their communities have been shattered.

This eagerness to alter mood or state of consciousness in not restricted to the human species. Cats exhibit a craving for catnip, cattle to locoweed, squirrels to pine cone seeds, and bees and wasps ingest fermented sap whenever they have the opportunity. Animals appear to have the same need to alter consciousness that humans exhibit. In laboratories addicted rodents display a compulsion for morphine and heroin similar to their human counterparts. They also experience a withdrawal syndrome when the drug is no longer administered.

Alcohol was discovered and drunk during the Stone Age. In the 14th century alcohol was hailed as a panacea. It was thought to slow aging,, improve the health of the heart, and aid digestion. In addition, it was used as currency and as a means to supplement calories in the diet.

Many plants and plant products containing psychoactive chemicals have been chewed, smoked, swallowed and sniffed by people all over the world. Opium was known in ancient Mesopotamia five thousand years ago and its medicinal properties were described in medical texts written on cuneiform tablets. Homer described the brewing of opium tea and its offering as a beverage of hospitality in the Odyssey.

Marijuana is one of the oldest drugs known to man. Chinese physicians prescribed the plant for gout, rheumatism, malaria, loss of appetite, constipation and as an aid in childbirth. The ancient Hindu sages of India considered the plant indispensable in religious life. The Greeks of Homer's age were familiar with cannabis and the Scythian warriors medicated themselves on its leaves before going into battle as did U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Without the "help" of Europeans, Native Americans developed one of the most elaborate and sophisticated array of hallucinogenic drugs known to man. The hallucinogenic experiences were woven into the fabric of Indian social life that would be difficult for us to picture in today's society. Tobacco leaves were smoked during a period of contemplation and meditation that preceded all important tribal decisions, meetings, religious ceremonies and rituals and tobacco pipe smoking commonly marked the end of hostilities between tribes.

Almost all the nations of the New World utilized drugs as medicines, for recreational purposes and as religious sacraments. Mayan Indians have been chewing hallucinogenic mushrooms, containing psilocybin, since the time of the pre Columbian Aztecs. Members of the North American Church have used the peyote cactus, containing mescaline for generations to achieve ecstatic visions. Psychedelic cults existed in Guatemala and southern Mexico 3,500 years ago. The South American Indians chewed cocaine for thousands of years. Smoking marijuana or cannabis is noted in texts from India, Greece, and China. The Assyrians sucked opium lozenges. The Romans ate hashish sweets.

Early attempts to regulate many of these drugs go back as far as back as 2200 B.C. Many cultures have historical records of codes or laws enacted to control the use of a wide variety of drugs within their societies.

The early treatment of behavioral disorders such as stress, mood swings, anxiety, panic, psychosis and depression were attempted by trying to affect or cure the body. Witches and medicine men used chants and incantations in combination with preparations made from plants and minerals to help cure people. In some cases these disorders were thought to be caused by possession by demons. It was believed that exorcisms aided by burnings, beatings, and long dunks into water made the body uncomfortable and would drive the demons out.

Still, other individuals believed that behavioral disorders were caused by excess body vapors or fluids such as blood and body wastes. These beliefs lead to such practices as drilling holes in the head to allow vapors to escape, bleedings using leeches, prolonged perspiring and enemas.

The history of drug use in the United States is like a pendulum swinging between periods of drug acceptance and rejection. Our history exhibits cycles of high conservative activity during which societal intolerance of drug use and governmental regulations increased, and liberal periods during which societal tolerance and governmental control eased. This history of drug use is rich with examples of how we indulged ourselves and regulated ourselves; how we counted the costs; and how we attempted to cope with drug use.


Our colonial economy was fueled by tobacco and rum. By 1620, for example, Virginia tobacco growers were shipping 400,000 pounds of tobacco to London annually and men an women of all social classes reached for a pipe of tobacco or a pinch of snuff. People in the 17th century also chewed tobacco because they believed it had medicinal benefits. This view came from observing Native Americans who used tobacco topically to treat maladies ranging from toothaches, to rheumatism, to wounds and to even the common cold!

Alcohol was a cheap and plentiful dietary staple and served as currency. Physicians endorsed distilled spirits to strengthen the heart, ward off fever, nourish the body, cheer the soul and prolong life. Rum was an important trade item and by the early 18th century, New England exported 600,000 barrels of rum annually. As this quantity of rum rose, prices fell and social consequences of alcohol such as public disorder, drunkenness and poverty rose. Whiskey became the American drink of choice by the late 1700s.

In the 19th century, opiates and cocaine were readily available as cocoa leaves or as compounds dissolved in alcohol. Due to the strict interpretation of the U.S. constitution relating to states rights, each state assumed the responsibility for dealing with its own health concerns. These concerns included regulating medical practices and controlling the availability of drugs. Many states enacted little control over the manufacture, sale, advertising, purchase, possession or use of drugs.

There was no regulation over the interstate sale of drugs and little uniformity in enforcing of the laws that existed. The federal government focused its national health concerns on communicable diseases and the health care of government dependents.


By 1830, the annual per capita consumption of distilled spirits was five gallons approximately five times the amount people consume today. People paid their taxes with run and whiskey since alcohol was considered legal tender. Also, alcohol was a dietary staple because the supply of other beverages was inconsistent or unreliable and water often contained disease.

Taverns and inns acted as important community gathering centers. They served a variety of functions including trading posts, the local post office, auction houses, militia office and liquor retailer. As social gathering spots, patrons were often encouraged to drink and smoke to excess.

By the middle of the 19th century, advances in organic chemistry helped isolate and purify the active ingredients in drugs and provide new routes to altered states. The syringe was perfected in 1850. These advances increased the effectiveness of administering drugs and made drug use more convenient. Alcohol consumption had declined in the 1830s but the use of other drugs including opium increased steadily. Opium served as a primary pain killer and panacea for a variety of ills ranging from headaches to colic. The pharmaceutical industry grew very skilled at marketing newly developed drugs, moving them into mass production, and advertising and distributing them throughout the world. These events provided 19th century America with an era of unrestrained advertising and drug availability.

In the 1870s and `80s, society saw widespread medical and recreational use of drugs. A growing societal intolerance fueled by accelerated alcohol consumption and drunkenness resulted in widespread community commentary and complaints. Family violence such as wife and child beating became a more visible fact of life. Many other drugs including chloral hydrate and morphine were marketed in patent medicines. Many individuals did not know the ingredients in these elixirs and tonics and unknowingly developed dependencies. Others smoked hashish and visited opium dens. An increasing desire to more quickly gain control over the growing drug problem generated a change in the public's attitude toward drug use and created peer pressure directed at not using drugs. This change in attitude may be attributed to the perception that drug use interfered with productivity and individual achievement (graduating from school, and the setting of goals).

These social events gave rise to a temperance movement between 1820 and 1850 and what could be called the first War on Drugs. The cries for moderate use of alcohol and complete abstinence swept the United States in the form of religious revivals. Secular societies also organized. One of these groups called the Washingtonians was similar to today's Alcoholics Anonymous. The temperance movement relying on moral persuasion and legal action to restrict the availability of alcohol reduced the annual alcohol consumption from five gallons per capita to two gallons by 1840. While the mechanics of addiction were still not clearly understood at this time many physicians struggled to find treatments for their patients' addictions.

In the 1890s as a result of the availability of opium, cocaine and morphine in patent medicines and their heavy use by people most of the users who became addicts were medical addicts. Very few abusers took drugs for recreational purposes. No effective national organization existed to control the practices of physicians and pharmacists for the dispensing of drugs. Health professionals were often a major contributor to their patient's addictions typically prescribing or administering a drug to relieve pain, calm nerves and induce sleep.

The addict did not need the assistance of a physician to get their drug of choice because they could buy any substance at a drug store or any other legitimate dealer. In addition, many over the counter medications contained large amounts of opium. The typical addict of the late 19th century was a woman, often older, who had been addicted by prescription or self dosing. Two important groups of men were conspicuous among drug users at this time in history. One was the professional class which included lawyers and physicians; the other was Civil War veterans who had been treated with opiates for their wounds.

In the late 1800s a growing number of institutions were formed to treat alcoholic and drug addicts. These early attempts at treatment often competed with mail order cures and often dispensed drugs themselves. These cures offered a cheap and accessible treatment for addicted individuals. The temperance movement believed that restricting alcohol sales would reduce violence, crime and disease. The founding of the Anti Saloon League in 1893 helped advance the temperance movement which eventually led to the support for a national drug policy and eventually passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

Patent medicine frauds were exposed by the Department of Agriculture and in 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act was enacted and required accurate labeling for all patent medicines sold across state borders. This meant that widely used products with their secret formulas for cures that ranged from morphine addiction to the common cold had to indicate that they contained other addictive drugs such as marijuana, alcohol, opium, cocaine and heroin.

After 1900 members of the general public tried to avoid narcotics. Independence not dependence became the prized value. This was reinforced by decades of scare literature, and the temperance and prohibition movements.

No restrictions on national or worldwide drug availability existed until the 1911 Hague Opium Conference. The goal of this conference was to have each country establish legislation to help control the world wide narcotics trade.

Drug use shifted from the middle class to take on an affiliation with criminal and deviant behavior. Cocaine use shifted to heroin and opium smokers switched to heroin injections. The typical addicts were poor urban men. The media portrayed drug addiction as a sign of the most degraded condition into which people could fall. Congress tried to regulate the medicinal use and eliminate the recreational use of opiates and cocaine through the Harrison Act of 1914. The act directly implemented the ideas set forth at the Hague conference. It required a strict accounting of opium, morphine and its marketing from entry into the United States to the dispensing of the drugs to patients. The Harrison Act made the possession of narcotics without a prescription a criminal offense. In order to keep an accounting of narcotics' sales a small tax was paid upon each transfer of these drugs.

The Harrison Act also forbad the use of cocaine in patent medicines. This increased societal rejection of drug use was accompanied by an increased fear of the drug user. Society increasingly demanded arrest and imprisonment to help solve the drug problem. This rapid emphasis on intolerance of drug use and the desire for quick results generated the feeling by 1916 that stricter action was necessary because earlier drug approaches and corrective actions had been slow, lenient, unpredictable and often ineffective.

In 1919 the Supreme Court handed down a decision stating the practice of prescribing drugs for the sole purpose of maintaining a person's drug addiction was not legitimate medical practice and violated the Harrison Act. Some 30,000 physicians were arrested during the 1920s and some 3,000 actually served prison sentences. Consequently, physicians abandoned the treatment of addicts for nearly 50 years.

The concept of compulsory treatment was initiated with the opening of two federal hospitals in Lexington, Kentucky and Fort Worth, Texas. These facilities treated addicts convicted of federal law violations and voluntary patients. The treatment of voluntary patients was not very effective because most of them left before treatment was completed. The treatment programs included four elements: drug withdrawal, residence in a drug free environment, psychotherapy and supervised activities. The supervised activities included vocational training, remedial education, and recreational activities.

The Volstead Act of 1920 prohibited the non-medical use of alcohol. This act led to the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Prohibition) in 1920. It outlawed the manufacture, sale and transportation of domestic and foreign liquor within the United States but did not prohibit consumption. Congress had to define the amount of alcohol that was intoxicating and did so by banning any beverage that contained over one half on one percent alcohol. This amendment created a thriving black market for alcohol and the Prohibition Bureau soon found the amendment impossible to enforce. An enormous profit was to be gained by supplying illicit liquor to the public. Prohibition legislation that prohibited the use of one drug often caused people to turn to marijuana which was legal and cheaper than alcohol.

The money gained from these operations often helped finance crime syndicates whose operations expanded into drugs, prostitution, gambling and extortion. Alcohol remained an integral part of American culture in spite of Prohibition. After the Great Depression set in and became entrenched, large numbers of powerful Americans abandoned their support of Prohibition and joined the repealers. They tailored their arguments to take advantage of the economic problems of the depression and in 1933 Congress initiated the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition. Almost all states immediately permitted the alcoholic beverage business to prosper legally.

In 1925 the Supreme Court decision defined drug dependency "an illness." Physicians could once again prescribe narcotics to help cure the addict (the Harrison Act had made this illegal). In 1937 at the strong urging of the Bureau of Narcotics Chief Henry J. Anslinger, the federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act. It provided stiff penalties for using and selling the drug. This could be viewed as our second war on drugs. Prior to this date marijuana was legal and was prescribed by doctors for a variety of ailments. In 1938 the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act was passed. It required that drugs had to be safe before they were distributed. As a result of these actions opium and cocaine use were curtailed. The recreational use of drugs including marijuana, stimulants, hallucinogens and sedatives remained at extremely low levels until 1945. The Boggs Act of 1951 created mandatory minimum sentences for narcotic drug offenses.

Conservatism and growing condemnation of drugs fueled the idea of increasing the severity of penalties for drug use increased in the 1950s. In 1956 the Narcotic Drug Control Act drastically increased fines and gave third time offenders mandatory 10 to 40 year sentences without the possibility of suspension of sentence, parole or probation. The severest stipulation of the Act was the provision of the death penalty for anyone who sold, furnished, or gave away heroin to anyone under the age of 18. In this year all existing heroin supplies in the United States were turned over to the government. As alcohol use rose in suburbia in the 1950s the press reported heroin epidemics in the cities. The use of hallucinogens grew and would later become one of the drugs of choice in the 1960s.


Until the 1960s recreational drug use was confined to a small minority of the population. In the 1960s the public's attitude towards drug use shifted towards a higher level of tolerance. Close to home depictions by the media made drugs less remote and of more immediate concern of the middle class. The media introduced empathy into portrayals of drug users. The effects of the drugs used at this time on most peoples' physiology and emotions were enjoyable. Drug use was promoted as ways of opening inner vistas that would end social ills from war, violence and alcoholism. Drug use was promoted by some social groups as a way to extend your natural potential. People's feelings of being vulnerable and unaffected by drugs helped minimize the public's sense of risk associated with drug use. Psychedelic drug and marijuana use expanded. The public's tolerance for a wide range of behaviors evolved including the growth of movements that opposed the Vietnam war and mainstream American culture. The pattern of drug use shifted to indiscriminate use of a variety of mood altering substances including LSD, PCP, STP, to plant hallucinogens such as mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, cocaine and to amphetamines and barbiturates. Poly-drug use became the new face of drug abuse into the 1970s. Rock music and its related lifestyle and a supportive media focused on drugs, drug users and many new believers generated a bandwagon effect that supported decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. Songs such as 'The Times Are A Changin', Rainy Day Woman (marijuana), Mr. Tambourine Man, and I Get High With A little Help From My Friends, alluded to questioning the American concept of standards and the virtues of drug taking. The concept of increasing personal liberty, the failure of legal restrictions, and the media portrayal that ``everybody does it'' acted as disclaimers that reinforced the acceptance of drug taking behavior. A spirited subculture evolved and became a powerful force in recruiting young people to use psychoactive drugs. Many youth began conducting their own experiments with ordinary household products such as glue and solvents. Amphetamines and cocaine became very popular. Although these illicit drugs received the most attention, prescription drugs including barbiturates and tranquilizers also escalated after 1960. In 1963 the Supreme Court declared in Robinson v. California that addiction is "a disease, not a crime" which continues to be the Court's position three decades later. The Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966 endorsed the idea of medical treatment and rehabilitation for drugs users.

The legislation provided for a close linkage between the health care system and the criminal justice system. These programs were in full swing for about a decade and were then replaced by a system of community therapeutic drug treatment programs. In 1968 the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs was given the responsibility at the federal level for the nation's drug problem. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 divided drugs into five schedules. Each of these schedules carried penalties for the manufacture, distribution and possession of controlled drugs. This Act eliminated the federal mandatory sentences for a first offense illegal possession, reinstated of the possibility of probation, and eliminated conviction statements from the convicted persons public records. A significant aspect of this Act was its targeting of the drug distributor, not the drug user.

The use of heroin caused much concern in the press and a new connection was made between crime and drugs. The federal government also struggled with drug dependency. Marijuana was used so frequently in Vietnam to relieve the pressures of war that the United States military also launched and anti marijuana campaign. This often turned soldiers to heroin which was readily available and often sold cheaper than marijuana. In 1971 President Nixon declared his war on drugs and drug related crime. He authorized the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention which resulted in many treatment and research programs. In 1972 the Presidential Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse recommended the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. In 1973 Oregon decriminalized marijuana use and by 1978, 11 states followed suit. In 1977 the Carter administration recommended that the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana be legalized.

Laws in the 1960s and 1970s often appeared powerless in their efforts to reduce drug production, distribution and use. The gap between the public's tolerant public opinion about drug use and the restrictive drug laws made the laws appear ridiculous and bizarre. Pharmaceutical manufacturers had an economic interest in the drug use of the 1960s and `70s. They persuaded legislators to dilute the provisions of the laws regulating amphetamines and barbiturates so the sale of these substances to non-medical customers would continue relatively unaffected. The drug paraphernalia industry grew into the billions or dollars by the late 1970s. Head shops and record stores specialized in drug accessories including pro drug magazines such as High Times. Television commercials promised cures for a variety of things through drug use including unhappiness, discomfort depression, tension headaches and hemorrhoids. In the late 1960s and the late 1970s, media attention of drug use declined but actual use increased. A considerable drop in marijuana, hallucinogen, amphetamine and sedative use occurred in the 1980s. The use of cocaine and crack, however, continued to grow.

NEW DIRECTIONS: 1980s-1990s

By the 1980s society shifted back towards intolerance. The pro drug movement lost leadership. People were no longer looking to "get high" to better understand each other and Vietnam war veterans did not continue their drug use in large numbers when they returned home. Medical warnings about LSD and marijuana once again began to gain media attention. Society began to be alarmed by the growing crime associated with drug trafficking. Anti drug proponents won back parts of the media's attention and the spread of HIV by contaminated needles became a growing concern. As a result the empathy towards drugs that developed in the 1960s and `70s diminished. The federal government embarked on an aggressive campaign to reduce the availability of illicit drugs through law enforcement, diplomatic initiatives, and measures to enhance education, prevention, research and treatment programs. This initiative was called a Federal Strategy for Prevention of Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking (1982) and National Drug Control Strategy (1989). Many businesses introduced drug testing at this time. By 1982, 80% of the Fortune 500 companies used these tests.

The struggle, however, continued. In 1986 President Ronald Reagan began a new war on drugs. Mrs. Reagan helped initiate a new temperance movement by calling on citizens to "just say no to drugs." A growing concern of drug use and a desire to implement stricter controls on the production, distribution and use of drugs evolved. In 1988 the Anti Drug Abuse Act prohibited the production, marketing and possession of psychoactive substances. A significant part of this act was its provision of greater emphasis on prevention, education and treatment. The act also created the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) a cabinet position with the authority to develop a national strategy for all areas of combating drug abuse. William Bennett became the first federal drug czar.

In 1989 President George Bush declared yet another war on drugs and in his first televised speech as president declared drugs "the gravest domestic threat." In May of 1988 he stated that the "cheapest and safest way to eradicate narcotics is to destroy them at their source." The 1990 Anabolic Steroid Control Act made anabolic steroids controlled substances and increased penalties for the illegal manufacture, distribution, importation, and possession of them.

The U. S. drug war was built on the twin components of law enforcement and economic assistance. These components seek to eradicate coca crops, destroying processing laboratories, blocking the transport of processing chemicals and intercepting drug shipments. Traffickers were to be arrested and prosecuted, their assets seized and their communications distribution money laundering networks dismantled. By 1992 the federal government's spending on drugs was approximately 12 billion.


The basic strategies used to deal with drug problems in the early 19th century incorporated increasingly stricter penalties, a lack of public education about the physical and psychological effects of drugs and exaggerated claims to discourage drug use. However, these strategies created public ignorance about drug use and abuse, false images of drug users and a lack of appreciation for the value of drug treatment.

In 1993 the Clinton Administration attempted to address the criticism of the Reagan and Bush administrations that minimized prevention and treatment and focused on law enforcement and anti smuggling activities. The new strategy is partly based on the realization that jails and prisons have been crowded with persons convicted of drug related crimes while rates of hard core drug use continued to increase. The Clinton strategy calls for increased police presence at the community level, a greater investment in treating addiction and reducing the demand for drugs. The administration realizes that the drug problem cuts across all areas of the country's social and economic life. The administration is acknowledging drug abuse is a public health problem and hopes to empower communities, to reduce youth violence, to preserve families and to reform health care. The administration has stated it wants to build on proven strategies gained from research. The interim strategy outlined in 1993 in it Breaking the Cycle of Drug Abuse suggests specific drug policies proposing an aggressive treatment strategy for hard core drug use, making treatment part of the basic health care package, educating youth, and reducing drug use in the workplace. Some of the more specific objectives include:

Prevention programs may expect to receive help through the National Service Plan signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. The federal government has stated an interest in the development of partnerships and alliances that can provide direction and funding for drug abuse prevention. It is emphasized that this real work must be done in the communities by those who know what needs to be done the most.



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  4. Long, Robert Emmet. Drugs in America. New York: H.W. Wilson, pg. 219, 1993.

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  6. Rorabaugh, W.J. ``Alcohol in America.'' it OAH Magazine of History. / pp. 17-19, 1991.

  7. Rublowsky, John. The Stoned Age, A History of Drugs in America. New York: Capricorn Books, 1974.

  8. University of California at San Diego Extension. ``Alcohol and Other Drug Studies. "Prevention File, Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs. Vol. 9, no. 2, Spring 1994, pg. 21.

  9. White House. A Federal Strategy for Prevention of Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office, Office of Policy Development, 1982.

  10. White House. National Drug Control Strategy. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989.

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Created By: Jonathan Sheldon