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Drugs and Crime: Behavioral Aspects

The Criminal Model Of Drug Abuse

Although the questions and issues surrounding the professed relationships between drug use and crime did not fully become a public debate until after the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914, a body of attitudes regarding users of narcotics had already evolved many decades prior to the twentieth century.

Opium had been utilized as a general remedy in the United States as early as the settlement of colonial America, but the drug's availability on a large scale did not occur until its inclusion in numerous patent medicines during the nineteenth century. Opium and its derivatives had then become accessible to all levels of society and could be purchased over the counter in drug and grocery stores as well as through the mails. Remedies of this type were consumed for ailments of almost every type, from coughs to diarrhea, and had special favorability for the treatment of "female troubles."

Public concern regarding the "evil effects" attributed to opium contributed to the definition of its chronic use as a social problem. In 1856, for example, Dr. G. B. Wood dramatized the condition of chronic opium intoxication as being "evil," and suggested that indulgence in the use of the drug led to a loss of self-respect, that such usage represented the yielding of an individual to seductive pleasure, and that it was, in fact, a "vice." Other physicians further reiterated this point and estimated that perhaps hundreds of thousands of Americans were exposed to the "evil affects" of opium. In other cases, the affliction described was often viewed in contrast as a "disease." The vast numbers of Civil War veterans, for example, who had become addicted to morphine through its extensive intravenous administration for the relief of pain, were considered as suffering from "army disease." The majority of such individuals were deemed "sick" rather than "deviant" or "criminal," and treatment in the form of medically supervised withdrawal was readily available in the office of one's family doctor.

By the close of the 1880s, however, the notion that addiction was evil seemed to be increasing, even among members of the medical profession. Dr. C. W. Earle, for example, expressed in the Chicago Medical Review the opinion that the opium habit, like the use of alcohol or gluttony, constituted a vice; and similarly, John Shoemaker's 1908 edition of Materia Medica and Therapeutics reflected on "opium-eating" as a moral rather than a medical problem. Medical practitioners who supported the opinion that the user of opium was to be pitied rather than degraded, on the other hand, nevertheless contributed to an encompassing definition of the addict as someone quite divergent from the more "normal" members of society. In 1894, for example, physician Paul Sollier indicated that a neuropathic or psychopathic condition predisposed opiate addiction; and, Wilson and Eshner's American Textbook of Applied Therapeutics (published in 1896) investigated the phenomenon in terms of a disease of both the body and the mind.

In addition to drug dependence instigated through exposure to opium in patent medicines or by injectable morphine, public concern was also mounting relative to the opium-smoking parlors. Although the use of opium was not a crime during this period, the operation of the opium parlors was illegal in New York City and elsewhere, and police closings of these establishments were widely publicized. Furthermore, descriptions of the opium habit and its consequences were dramatized as "evil" in police literature and the behavior under observation was associated with criminality. And finally, by 1896, the term "dope fiend" had made its way into popular slang usage, implying that drug-taking was, or at least resulted in, an evil obsession. By the end of the nineteenth century, cocaine and heroin had been added to the over-the-counter pharmacopeia, creating ever greater concerns about drug "abuse."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawDrugs and Crime: Behavioral Aspects - The Criminal Model Of Drug Abuse, The Harrison Act Of 1914, Early Research Initiatives, Contemporary Drugs And Crime Research