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Addicts Who Survived

An Oral History of Narcotic Use in America before 1965

David T. Courtwright

Publication Year: 2013

The authors employ the techniques of oral history to penetrate the nether world of the drug user, giving us an engrossing portrait of life in the drug subculture during the "classic" era of strict narcotic control. 

Praise for the hardcover edition:

"A momentous book which I feel is destined to become a classic in the category of scholarly narcotic books."
—Claude Brown, author of the bestseller, Manchild in the Promised Land.

"The drug literature is filled with the stereotyped opinions of non-addicted, middle-class pundits who have had little direct contact with addicts.  These stories are reality.  Narcotic addicts of the inner cities are both tough and gentle, deceptive when necessary and yet often generous--above all, shrewd judges of character.  While judging them, the clinician is also being judged."
—Vincent P. Dole, M.D., The Rockefeller Institute.

"What was it like to be a narcotic addict during the Anslinger era?  No book will probably ever appear that gives a better picture than this one. . . . a singularly readable and informative work on a subject ordinarily buried in clichés and stereotypes."
—Donald W. Goodwin, Journal of the American Medical Association

" . . . an important contribution to the growing body of literature that attempts to more clearly define the nature of drug addiction. . . . [This book] will appeal to a diverse audience.  Academicians, politicians, and the general reader will find this approach to drug addiction extremely beneficial, insightful, and instructive. . . . Without qualification anyone wishing to acquire a better understanding of drug addicts and addiction will benefit from reading this book."
—John C. McWilliams, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"This study has much to say to a general audience, as well as those involved in drug control."
—Publishers Weekly

"The authors' comments are perceptive and the interviews make interesting reading."
—John Duffy, Journal of American History

"This book adds a vital and often compelling human dimension to the story of drug use and law enforcement.  The material will be of great value to other specialists, such as those interested in the history of organized crime and of outsiders in general."
—H. Wayne Morgan, Journal of Southern History

"This book represents a significant and valuable addition to the contemporary substance abuse literature. . . .  this book presents findings from a novel and remarkably imaginative research approach in a cogent and exceptionally informative manner."
—William M. Harvey, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs

"This is a good and important book filled with new information containing provocative elements usually brought forth through the touching details of personal experience. . . .  There isn't a recollection which isn't of intrinsic value and many point to issues hardly ever broached in more conventional studies."
—Alan Block, Journal of Social History

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-11

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Foreword to the 1989 Edition

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pp. xi-xiii

The survivors were the elite addicts; they knew how to be addicted with class. Many of the narrators were, at various stages of their lives, engaged in petty criminal activity to support their addictions, but not even those individuals can be perceived as criminals in any conventional sense of the term. They are presented, or...

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pp. xiv-15

We are indebted, first, to the New York State Division of Substance Abuse Services, whose cooperation and sponsorship made this undertaking possible. A National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship greatly assisted the principal author in the initial stages of preparing this book. Further support in the form of travel...

Alphabetical Table of Narratives

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pp. xv-xvi

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Introduction: The Classic Era of Narcotic Control

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pp. 1-44

From the early 1920s until the middle 1960s American narcotic policy was unprecedentedly strict and punitive, in comparison both to other western countries and to what it has become in our own time. To use a shorthand phrase, this was the classic period of narcotic control—"classic" in the sense of simple, consistent, and...

Part One: Becoming an Addict

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pp. 45-63

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1. Turned On

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pp. 47-62

When I was a youngster Harlem was alive. You could hear laughter. The streets would be full of people. Lenox Avenue, Seventh Avenue, all had businesses: there wasn't an empty store front along there. Seventh Avenue was like Broadway downtown. There was dope in Harlem, and crime, but it wasn't like it is now: people...

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2. Hooked

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pp. 63-76

I would sit down at night and hear all these stories they'd tell about dope. The first time I used some dope was there in jail. A guy got his wife to bring some heroin in a dollar bill. See, they used to let us have cash money. She took the dollar bill and saturated it with heroin, and then she took her iron and smoothed...

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3. Hop

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pp. 77-102

That left me the oldest; I was thirteen, so I had to get a job. I got a job in a grocery store first, and then my cousins taught me the switchboard, so I got a job as a telephone operator. I was the night operator; I went to school half days. I had one and a half years of high school—they called it eighth and ninth down there...

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4. The Needle

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pp. 103-127

I was old enough to know better: I was age twenty-one when I first started to use heroin. At first I snorted it, because I was deathly afraid of a needle. You couldn't come near me with a needle. I could snort, and snort, and snort, though. The guys said, "You're going to eat out the lining of your nose, you're going to get adenoids...

Part Two: In the Life

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pp. 129-147

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5. Scoring

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pp. 131-143

I started using drugs in the thirties. This was more or less an experimental thing. I had been smoking marijuana when I was a youngster, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. In Harlem you can buy anything—you just have to know where to buy it. When I was a kid, we used to go to a reefer pad and buy it and smoke in the pad...

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6. Hustling

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pp. 144-158

In the twenties I was stealing with other fellows. In the thirties it was the same way, but I went into a higher bracket: I went for different kinds of jewelry, gold, silver. In lofts, all lofts. Neckties we stole. There used to be a firm called Sulka Neckties, they used to sell for ten dollars a necktie during the Depression days...

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7. Hooking

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pp. 159-177

People in those days kept iceboxes on their back porches. So we went up and raided their iceboxes. We put the food in a sack. We went down into a couple of basements and got some dungarees and sneakers and things the white kids' mothers had put on the line. We put them on and walked to Monroe, Virginia...

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8. Dealing

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pp. 178-206

I was dealing heroin at the same time I was smoking. That's how I was paying for my hop. In those days, I remember you could have got a vial of H for two dollars. It was about what we would call a "sixteenth" today. You know, we learned so much about it from this guy, Cago, that we went in business. We bought an...

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9. Working

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pp. 207-230

The girls were very nice. They had to show me how to do the shirts: the machines in them days weren't as modern as they are now, you know. I caught on easy, but they could do it much faster, because they were doing piecework, a dollar twenty-five cents a hundred. Some days they would do a thousand shirts, some...

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10. Creating

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pp. 231-248

My feature instrument was the tenor saxophone. I play all the saxophones and most reed instruments, but the tenor was my feature. I haven't had an extensive musical education. For instance, I never went to a university or to a musical college or had anything big like that in the way of musical education. But I was thoroughly tutored...

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11. Busted

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pp. 249-276

My first arrest for narcotics was in 1945 or 1946, before I went into the army. The police busted us for dealing, but they didn't have a clear-cut case, so they threw it out. But in the meantime I cold turkeyed in the Tombs. In those days there was no methadone. You were lucky if you got a tranquilizer. Asking for an aspirin...

Part Three: Treatment

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pp. 277-295

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12. The Clinics

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pp. 279-295

Some interesting complications came up because many very prominent people here didn't know anything about narcotic addiction; all they knew was "dope fiends" and street characters and "hopheads" and that sort of thing. They didn't know that, out of the sixteen hundred patients that I had, that many of them were the...

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13. Lexington and Its Discontents

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pp. 296-318

Anyway, I was on the train to Lexington and I met this fellow Tommy from Seventh Street. I didn't know him, he was a perfect stranger, but he got to talking to me. He said, "You're going to Lexington, huh? You're from New York?" I said "Yeah." He said, "I'm going there too. I've got a wife that's got cancer. She gets pills...

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14. Methadone Maintenance

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pp. 319-343

Three physicians were as many as I could juggle at one time. I used three to let them save face. I wouldn't go to a physician on a Monday and then go back for another prescription on the following Monday. But with three of them working at the same time I could wait a decent interval of a month. Then he could say...

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Epilogue to the 1989 Edition: From Methadone to the Drug War

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pp. 344-368

The situation has become more complex legally because methadone maintenance has been superimposed on laws aimed at prohibition and interdiction. Recall that, from the early 1920s until the middle 1960s, American narcotic policy had two key objectives: the quashing of legal maintenance and the suppression...

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Epilogue to the 2012 Paperback Edition: America’s Longest War

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pp. 369-383

One day in 1980, as we were returning from an interview in Queens, a stranger approached us on the subway. He had the look of an out-of-town businessman: coat, tie, baffled expression. “Can you tell me,” he asked, “what has happened to my city?” “What do you mean?” one of us replied warily. He didn’t look like a crazy person...

Appendix: The Interviews

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pp. 385-392


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pp. 393-400

Select Bibliography

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pp. 401-402


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pp. 403-416

E-ISBN-13: 9781572339767
E-ISBN-10: 1572339764
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572339378
Print-ISBN-10: 1572339373

Publication Year: 2013