The following is inspired by the book Miracles Happen: The Birth of Narcotics Anonymous in Words and Pictures released by Narcotics Anonymous World Services. Some of the content has been researched and added by the author.
Incorporated in Chatsworth, California. The photos in the book will be hard to reproduce but I will try my best to convey the overall feel of the literature as best I can.
The book is dedicated to the memory of Jimmy K. “His tireless efforts in the early years of our formulation and growth laid the foundation for our movement (p. 7).”
Old pill bottles
There seems to be this alternative: either go on as best we can to the bitter ends – jails, institutions or death – or find a new way to live. In years gone by, very few addicts ever had this last choice. – Little White Book
In 2007, there were over 25,065 groups holding over 43,900 weekly meetings in 127 countries. The improbability of such a movement makes the existence of this God-given program an absolute miracle in the lives of suffering addicts. There was a time in history when there were none to very few options for addicts who wanted to get clean. Addiction itself, was a crime. There was a time when it was illegal for addicts to meet together. The “truth” about an addict was this: “Once an addict always an addict”.
Drug Use Before and In the Twentieth Century
Drug use has been around probably as long as humans have been around. It has been used for medicinal purposes, for religious rites and practices, and for recreational purposes.
Wine was used at least from the time of the early Egyptians; narcotics from 4000 B.C.; and medicinal use of marijuana has been dated to 2737 B.C. in China. But not until the 19th cent. A.D. were the active substances in drugs extracted (FactMonster.com).
Ancient paraphernalia (Drug Kit)
Andean mummy hair has provided the first direct archaeological evidence of the consumption of hallucinogens in pre-Hispanic Andean populations, according to recent gas chromatography and mass spectrometry analysis. Indirect evidence for psychoactive drug use in South America’s ancient populations abound, ranging from the discovery of drug equipment to the identification of hallucinogenic herb residuals in snuffing kits.
In Europe, Swiss Alchemist Paracelsus invented laudanum (opium dissolved into liquid form) in 1541. It became a widespread curative potion.
The use of opium became epidemic in 19th century Europe and in America. It was commonly used in children’s medicine with cute labels such as “Godfrey’s Cordial”, “Munn’s Elixir”, and get this….”Mother Bailey’s Quieting Syrup” (p. 10).
In 1803, a German pharmacist by the name of F. W. Serturner successfully isolated the active ingredient in opium: Morphine. Morpheus is the Greek God of sleep and dreams. This is Morphine’s namesake. The hypodermic was not invented for about another 40 years (p. 10). The drug was effective and thought to be harmless. It’s peak use was during the Civil War in which it is estimated that 400,000 morphine addicts were created in the army alone.
Old ad for morphine: apparently accepted for use as a teething aid
We now had patent medicines such as “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup”, “Darby’s Carminative”, and “Ayer’s Cheery Pectorial” (p. 10). They were particularly popular with older white women from middle and upper classes. In 1900 there were an estimated 300,000 opiate-dependent people in the U.S. At this point the affliction was looked upon with sympathy. When immigrant’s began to have the same addiction issues these views rapidly changed. Urban tenements and slums developed, poverty increased and so the poor more often turned to alcohol and narcotics. Lower-class addicts brought the views on addiction to a new light and addiction was driven into criminality, dereliction, and hopeless despair (p. 10-11).
Criminalization of Addiction
Perhaps the earliest recorded example is the prohibition of the use of alcohol under Islamic law (Sharia), which is usually attributed to passages in the Qur’an dating from the 7th century.
Religious intolerance was a motivation for drug prohibition in Christian Europe. In a move interpreted as support for the efforts of the Spanish Inquisition against the Arabs, in a 1484 fiat Pope Innocent VIII banned the use of cannabis. The persecution of heretics in the form of witch hunts also gathered momentum around this time, and frequently targeted users of medicinal and hallucinogenic herbs. The Inquisition proceeded apace in Meso-America and South America, where peyote (péyotl), ololiúqui, toloáche, teonanácatl and other sacred plants of the Mexican culture were prohibited as works of the devil.
The first law outright prohibiting the use of a specific drug in the United States was a San Francisco ordinance which banned the smoking of opium in opium dens in 1875. Even though the law prohibited the trafficking of opium, laudanum and other tinctures were allowed to persist in medicinal form. The distinction between its use by white Americans and Chinese immigrants was thus based on the form in which it was ingested: Chinese immigrants tended to smoke it, while it was often included in various kinds of generally liquid medicines often (but not exclusively) used by people of European descent. The laws targeted opium smoking, but not other methods of ingestion. This was followed by the Harrison Act, passed in 1914, which required sellers of opiates and cocaine to get a license. While originally intended to require paper trails of drug transactions between doctors, drug stores, and patients, it soon became a prohibitive law. In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled in Doremus that the Harrison Act was constitutional and in Webb that physicians could not prescribe narcotics solely for maintenance.
Then, of course, we had the Prohibition on alcohol. Most of us know this story so here is a link if you would like to learn more: Prohibition of Alcohol.
In 1936 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) noticed an increase of reports of people smoking marijuana, which further increased in 1937. The Bureau drafted a legislative plan for Congress, seeking a new law and the head of the FBN, Harry J. Anslinger, ran a smear campaign against marijuana. During this particular time frame, the media was swarmed with propaganda regarding the effects of marijuana.
In 1972, United States President Richard Nixon announced the commencement of the so-called “War on Drugs.” Later, President Reagan added the position of drug czar to the President’s Executive Office.
In 1973, New York State introduced mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life imprisonment for possession of more than four ounces (113g) of a so-called hard drug, called the Rockefeller drug laws after New York Governor and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Similar laws were introduced across the United States.
California’s broader ‘three strikes and you’re out‘ policy adopted in 1994 was the first mandatory sentencing policy to gain widespread publicity and was subsequently adopted in most United States jurisdictions. This policy mandates life imprisonment for a third criminal conviction of any felony offense.
After the Harrison Act courts refused to define addiction as a disease. Addicts were driven underground and were subjected to street violence, diseases, arrests, convictions, and incarcerations. Dispensing clinics were opened. in 1919 thirteen municipalities had 44 opiate dispensing clinics aimed at detox or opium maintenance. The government perceived these as a threat and had them all closed by 1924 (p. 12). There was another increase in crime. In 1929 Congress adopted The Porter Act. Treatment facilities were established finally for addicts. One was in Lexington, Kentucky and the other was in Fort Worth, Texas. These were operational in the 30’s.
In the early years they primarily served as prison hospitals for convicted addicts. Those who entered voluntarily were detoxified. Treatment included “sweating it out” with hard work on the farm in Kentucky.
We now have employee assistance programs, hospital and residential-based treatment, and 12 step fellowships. In the 30s and 40s doctors were threatened into not only stopping treatment of addicts but also into reporting them to authorities (p. 13).
William Burroughs' Junkie allows a peak into the limited treatment options available to addicts
At one point it was illegal for any two addicts to be seen together. Addicts went even further underground where drugs were bought on the black market and the street or to complain of the “right symptoms” to doctors in order to satisfy their needs.
After WW2 addicts were put into two general categories: those addicted to pills, sedatives, barbiturates, laudanum, Demerol, etc.; and “dope fiends”. The second category more often needed to obtain their drugs through illicit means (p. 16).
Searches, harassment, and incarceration were normal parts of everyday life. Addicts and doctors who attempted to help them were seen as criminals. These are the truths of an addict from this time. We may not fully understand the words spoken by Jimmy K, that very few addicts DID have a choice like we have found today in Narcotics Anonymous.