Habit Forming: Drug Addiction in America, 1776–1914 by Elizabeth Kelly Gray explores American drug use and drug policy through the era when regulation was ineffective at the state level and non-existent at the national level. Habit-forming drugs were sold over the counter. Americans consumed hashish candy, visited opium dens for pleasure, self-administered injections of morphine, enjoyed coca-infused beverages, and used heroin and cocaine as medicines. Levels of addiction increased, but Americans did not associate addiction with crime. In the 19th century, consumers were mostly well-to-do white people, and there was little support for regulation or criminalization. In the early 20th century, however, as non-medical drug use was increasingly associated with lower-class young men, support for a federal drug law grew. This culminated in the 1914 Harrison Narcotic Tax Act, which proscribed sales of opiates and cocaine without demonstrated medical need.
Written by Elizabeth Kelly Gray, Towson University
Receive a year's subscription to our quarterly SHGAPE journal.