Bibliotherapy: Books About the History of Addiction and Treatment

Great books about the history of addiction and its treatment have languished in obscurity, never getting the recognition that these bits of history richly deserve.  I’m going to do my small part to encourage people to read these great books.

 The Addicts Who Survived: An Oral History of Narcotic Use in America, 1923-1965, by Courtwright, Joseph, and Des Jarlais. This book, published by the University of Tennessee Press in 1989, is now out of print, so hopefully you can find a copy at your library. I’m so glad I bought one of the few copies. This amazing book is filled with interviews with intravenous heroin addicts who lived through the so called “classic era” of opioid addiction. I got a feel for how fragile life is for IV addicts, and how miraculous it is to survive addiction for 30 years. Many of the survivors went into methadone programs, and credit methadone with saving their lives. Other addicts went on methadone, but are frank about their criticisms of methadone treatment, and their regrets. As an added bonus, this book has interviews with key people who made history during the classic era of opioid addiction in the U.S.: Vincent Dole, M.D., one of the three original investigators of the efficacy of methadone maintenance as a treatment. Dr. Dole describes the harassment and interference he experienced during his work, both from law enforcement and the medical community.

 The Fix, by Michael Massing.  There’s much great history in this book. Much of the book talks about the governmental decisions regarding the treatment of addiction and addicts. The author describes effective treatments for addiction which weren’t continued, because of political pressures. It also describes how policies that didn’t work nonetheless remained in practice because of politics. This book gives us insight into dealing with the present wave of pain pill addiction. If you have to read one book on the history of addiction treatment in the U.S., make it this one. It’s interesting because the author also includes stories of real-life addicts and their struggles to find treatment and recover.

 The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control, by David Musto. This may be the best-known book about the history of opioid addiction and treatment in the U.S. The author gives exhaustive references, valuable in their own right. This book may be dense reading for anyone not already interested in the topic, but I loved it. He gives a painstaking history of drug addiction against the background of American culture and politics. Anyone who has input into drug policies needs to read this book.

Dark Paradise: A History of Opioid Addiction in America, by David Courtwright. Much like The American Disease, it is packed full of information, along with insights and interpretation of the information. It covers much of the same information as the other book. It differs in the interpretation of opioid addiction history.

 Hooked: Five Addicts Challenge our Misguided Drug Rehab System, by Lonnie Shavelson. The author, a physician and journalist, follows five addicts with no money through the process of accessing addiction treatment. He documents in excruciating detail the pitiful systems called “treatment” for these addicts. Gaps in care and communication breakdowns would frustrate anyone, but these people are more fragile than most. The roadblocks they face are depressing. This is a fascinating and entertaining book, and left me with a feeling of frustration. It’s a vivid description of how broken our healthcare system is for the indigent.

Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, by William White. Written in 1998, this book has it all. It’s probably the most comprehensive book about the history of addiction treatments. Even if you don’t work in the field, you’ll think the book is interesting. It’s a well-written and scholarly book.  Particularly interesting was the descriptions of quack cures for addiction promoted throughout the ages. Some things never change. People desperate and suffering from a disease are vulnerable to different species of snake oil treatments now, as ever in history.

Addiction: from Biology to Drug Policy, by Avram Mack. Written nearly 10 years ago, parts of this might be a little out of date, but it’s still packed with information. It covers technical material, but is accessible to the educated layperson. He has some interesting stories to illustrate his meanings.

 The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts, by Nancy Campbell, 2008. In this little-known book, the author explains how drug addiction was treated from 1935 until 1975. The Narcotic Farm was a unique facility that served both voluntary patients and prisoners who had addiction. For its time, the Farm was moderately open-minded and willing to try new treatments. Sadly, most of the addicts treated to the Farm relapsed, probably because they had no continuing treatment when the addicts returned home. The pictures in the book are great, and tell much of the story of the Narcotic Farm.

We need these books. We don’t have to keep re-inventing the wheel because we can look to the past for guidance about the treatment of the addicts in this country. Our past method of incarcerating addicts clearly did not, is not, working. Public policy makers all over the country at all levels of government need to read these books.

If you know of more such books, tell me.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Nicole on November 7, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Gabor Mate’s “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”. It’s not exactly a history, but well worth a read.

    Reply

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