The New York Academy of Medicine on Opiate Addiction circa 1955

I’ve had a battered paperback titled Drugs and the Mind on my shelves for a while now, unread. As I’ve begun a minor purge of my shelves to get rid of books in bad condition, I’ve finally decided to give it a gander before giving it a toss. Written by one Robert S. DeRopp, it makes for depressing reading. This effect is produced by the realization that enlightened, less retrograde views on drugs and drug use have never been in short supply; they’ve just been steadfastly ignored.

In the chapter titled ‘Addicts and Addiction’ DeRopp quotes a New York Academy of Medicine report on opiate addiction, which after noting that ‘the punitive approach is no deterrent to the non-addict dealer or the addict,’ goes on to say:

There should be a change in attitude towards the addict. He is a sick person, not a criminal. That he may commit criminal acts to maintain his drug supply is recognized, but it is unjust to consider him criminal simply because he uses narcotic drugs….The addict should be able to obtain his drugs at low cost under Federal control, in conjunction with efforts to have him undergo withdrawal. Under this plan, these addicts, as sick persons, would apply for medical care and supervision. Criminal acts would no longer be necessary in order to obtain a supply of the drugs and there would be no incentive to create new addicts. Agents and black markets would disappear from lack of patronage. Since about eighty-five percent of the ‘pushers’ on the streets are said to be addicts, they would be glad to forgo this dangerous occupation if they were furnished with their needed drug. Thus the bulk of the traffic would substantially disappear….By a change in social attitude which would regard them as sick persons, and by relieving them of the economic oppression of attempting to obtain their supply of the drug at an exorbitant price, it will be possible to reach existing addicts in an orderly, dignified way, not as probationed persons or sentenced criminals. They would come under supervision in the interest of health, not because of an entanglement with the law. Thereafter, on a larger scale and in a humanitarian atmosphere, there would be an opportunity to apply persuasion to undergo rehabilitation. It is reasonable to expect that many might accept the opportunity.

De Ropp interjects at this point:

The report goes on to detail exactly how, though properly supervised clinics, the addict could be injected with the minimum amount of drug needed to keep him free of withdrawal symptoms.

and then continues the excerpt:

….All the while unrelenting attempts would be made to persuade the resistant addict to undergo therapy to break the habit. It will be seen that this recommendation is a humane, reasonable, and promisingly effective method of distribution….Every addict will get his drug. Under the present law to do that he must ‘push’ , rob, steal, burglarize or commit forgery. For he is desperate when he is without drugs.

1955. Read it and weep.

Note: The citation for the New York Academy of Medicine report is: Isbell, H. Medical aspects of opiate addiction. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. 31:886-902 (1955). In a future post, I will post excerpts from the 1944 Mayor’s Committee on Marihuana report. The commission was appointed by the then Mayor of New York City, Fiorello La Guardia. That’ll make you weep too.

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