The rising rate of addiction for women in America seems at first blush a historically startling event. But its not! America has had a long, long history of dancing with the devils of hard drug addictions.
While the article calls these rates historically the highest, they factually are not. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the addiction rate to cocaine, morphine, and alcohol was over 30% of the population in total, with the highest percentage of the addicted, women, typically to the morphine and cocaine varieties of patent medicines.
There was one huge difference at that time to what we have today, in that period America did not know what they were ingesting, as the so called ‘patent’ medicines did not disclose their contents.
America, under Teddy Roosevelt, passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1912 forcing patent medicine manufacturers to list specific compounds, like alcohol, morphine, and cocaine, but it had almost no effect. It took the outrage of one man, Samuel Hopkins Adams, writing a series of articles in Colliers Weekly to wake up American women, and spell the death knell for so called patent medicines. It was not regulations that stopped the patent medicine men, it was the collective actions of millions of individuals making the hugely difficult choice of personal responsibility and breaking the addictive cycle themselves. The action was so profound that rates of addiction plummeted and stayed low till the 1950’s when we again started the long crawl back to the enticing arms of self medication.
Adams outrage against the patent medicine purveyors, associated in an organization called the Proprietary Manufacturers Association was justified. These men were the real bad actors. They conspired to manipulate laws, hide their dangerous and addictive formulations, and to defraud the population with false advertising of these cure alls.
Today, our addictions are much different. We know what it is we take, we are told of the risks and side effects, there are regulations that control what the now called ‘Ethical” Pharmaceutical industry can advertise and how they must disclose the side effects and risks. Yet we still have a burning desire to simply find Pharma as the villain because they make the drugs and they make a lot of money in aggregate. American’s always need a villain. The role of Pharma as a player in our deadly dance of addiction, is no longer the same as the days of the Proprietary Association. Today much of the issue lays directly at the feet of our own personal decisions. In the 1900s, society took the position that people made a choice, and once addicted it was up to them to ‘purge their own soul’ of the devil’s minions holding them captive; no matter how hard and painful the breaking of addiction would be. Today, we chose to blame others for our addiction and we choose to believe that we have only a small role in our own addictions, that the chemical and behavioral mechanisms of addiction are beyond our personal ability to resist. We now believe that such events are beyond the individual’s control and the individual should be excused. I am not sure which approach and attitude is better or worse for America and individuals. In the end this debate is moot because we no longer have the national Will to affect change..
We have most of these addictive drugs for very valid reasons. Others, we have simply because human beings are innately attracted to chemistries that alter our mental state. For us to resist these negative influences takes conscious thought and at times difficult actions.
While this article purports that we have entered a level of addiction that is unprecedented, it is not the case. To deny our own history dooms us to proceed with ideas and policies that will once again, like the government intervention of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1912, not work. It will require, as it did in the 1920s, for something, or someone, to again wake us up and stimulate us to make those difficult choices of personal responsibility.