The Origins of Women’s “Substance Abuse” Treatment: Learning From Detroit’s WOMAN Center. 1970–1985

By Fernando Espinal – San Miguel

After reading this paper about the origins of investigation of Women’s substance abuse I found myself very enlightened. One of the beginning factors that I appreciated about their approach was they strayed away from the disease model , defined it as predictable responses to community chaos and blight. Therapeutic communities were developed. Once they opened the overwhelming treatment of men made them open a different section so the women could be treated comfortably. This was Women’s Alcoholic Movement or WAM. As soon as they opened they had uncovered a hidden epidemic of women drinkers and drug users. After some time this made them open a separate program for drug users which was called the Women’s Drug Program. They based their recovery strategy on part conscious and part leadership training After 6 months the program closed due to a lack of funds but then reopened with the new name Women’s drug collective with the members that still believed in the program.This new program introduced a very important tool in recovery for the women that was introduced as sister support. This consisted of joining women from the same community and joining the ones who were users with the ones who weren’t so the women could bond and seek support and strengthen each other , in a safe space without judgment. Later on with time dependence on federal loans had diluted the groups original vision.

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Principles and Practices of Harm Reduction

By Lusia Hetzler and Alexandra Mars

Part I: What is Harm Reduction? and its Applications


In our investigation of harm reduction, we wanted to analyze the term first through a more abstract, generalized lens: what does harm reduction mean, what are common misconceptions of its meaning, and what is the basis of arguments in opposition to harm reduction practices?  We used a working definition of harm reduction from the Harm Reduction Coalition: “Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs” (Principles of Harm Reduction).  This definition provides a general summary of the founding principles and goals of harm reduction, although it’s important to note that because harm reduction is so deeply rooted in the specific needs of the individual and community, there is no universal definition, nor a standardized methodology.  Another topic which arose in conversation is the subjectivity of “harm”: the question of who is being harmed and how is the issue of harm prioritized at the level of the individual, the community, and the society?

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How Did We Get Here? The War on Drugs in America and Its Socioeconomic Entanglements

By Lucille Sanz

The readings for this week focused on the drug war and some of the factors that have made it so violent and destructive. A central theme in the readings was the impact that the drug war has had on Black communities as well as Latino communities. The political motivations behind the drug war are also discussed, as data from the 1980s and the politicization of the War on Drugs by the Reagan administration began. Overall, the readings support the view that the war on drugs was a racial project designed to further entrench racial inequalities, or at the very least, to secure the status of white middle-class America at the expense of other groups. This exacerbation of racial inequality through the drug was a product of violent policing of Black bodies (Hall 1997), use of drugs for political gain (Jensen, Gerber and Babcock 1991), discrepancies in the sentencing of Blacks and Whites and the narratives surrounding their victimhood/criminality (Lassiter 2015) and the over-policing of Black neighborhoods (Nunn 2002). The readings paint a picture of the War on Drugs as a nefarious attempt to control public opinion through the abuse of minority communities. They also remind the reader of the massive waste of resources that were put into the war on drugs. You cannot help but wonder how the current opioid crisis—or urban communities—would look today if the investment that had gone into militarizing police forces and prosecuting young Black men had been put towards an initiative that focused on rehabilitating addicts and providing alternative economic opportunities to people sucked into drug trafficking by lack of legal work.

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The War on Drugs and Its Racist Past and Agendas

By Devyn Wensley

Since the war on drugs was enacted, drug arrests have tripled, making the United States prison system the largest globally. As America has continued to crack down on drugs with an iron fist, devastating consequences have become prevalent evidenced by the devolvement of families, the continuation of violence and police brutality, and real economic consequences for more than one party. In this essay I will break down the history that has led to the ever-prevalent war on drugs and its impact on minority communities.  

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Harm Reduction as a paradigm: The origins of Harm Reduction

By Fernando Espinal – San Miguel

After reading this article about the origins of Harm Reduction I felt like I was enlightened about a lot of things but also left with many questions regarding it’s future. I really enjoyed how in the beginning they defined it as a direct political critique of the social systems that create harm and not only a public health matter. This whole movement was starting to come to light in the 60’s and 70’s through activists and health workers who were determined to cause change for the good. Harm Reduction had become better known thanks to its role in the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. One of the most impactful results of all these activists group for me was how for example in Canada (90’s) through these activists HIV patients and “criminal” subcultures were being seen as people with needs and rights. The unlikely , yet needed, alliance between government health workers and determined activists gave drug users a chance to breathe while also challenging unnecessary drug enforcement. They had even adopted a phrase that said ” Cooperation and Collaboration, rather than Confrontation”.

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“Why The War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure” video response

By Luis E. Chavez-Sanchez

After watching this video I am shocked at all of the negative impacts the War on Drugs had in the United States and world wide. Within this country, it has led to mass incarceration and political corruption but in places like Latin America, Asia and Africa it has led to political destabilization and violence. However, the most shocking thing about the War on Drugs is its goal, to have a world free of drugs. This is very unrealistic because humans are substance users. People will always find a way to get ahold of a substance or find a new substance. Instead of incarcerating the user and labeling them with hurtful words, we should follow harm-reduction strategies; making testing kits easily accessible, legalizing the use of substances and providing clean and healthy injection sites. Furthermore, it would be beneficial to change what we think we know about “drug addiction”. Abusing substances is not the cause, it is often an effect, of negative life circumstance. Therefore, the War on Drugs has not been beneficial to most people, it has only negatively affected most people; drug and non-drug users alike.

Why The War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure” – Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

The Current State of Substance Abuse Treatment

By Alicia Bednar

Today’s substance abuse crisis has continued to grow at an alarming rate, and the public has had no choice but to become more aware of the issue as the growing numbers of affected individuals leave less space to hide. With death tolls rising, weighing the costs and benefits of the different methods of substance abuse treatment and harm reduction has become a heated debate. Specifically, the opioid crisis has become a rampant emergency in the United States; the rise of fentanyl in addition to synthetic opioids has resulted in overdose becoming the leading cause of death for adults under 50 (Szalavitz 2019, 18). Over 28,000 people died from drugs laced with synthetics such as fentanyl in 2017, compared to about 3,000 people who died from the same cause in 2013 (Szalavitz 2019, 18). Clearly, something must be done about this epidemic rather than simply pushing these individuals outside of the boundaries of society where we don’t have to think about them. It’s important when doing so to analyze controversial methods of treatment and recognize their benefits and drawbacks. How do we decide what path to take? 

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Current Drug Policy and Its 20th-Century Roots

By Margaux Albiez and Niko Zamora

Big Pharma

The pharmaceutical industry, condescendingly referred to as Big Pharma, is a massive industry. Globally, pharmaceuticals raked in over $1 trillion in revenue in 2014 and the U.S. pharmaceutical industry leads in profits and power.

Yet, “only 28 percent of Americans have a good opinion of Big Pharma. In fact, Big Pharma is the second most hated industry in America. It’s right behind the tobacco industry and the oil, gas and chemical industry.

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Stigmatization of Substance Use, “Addiction Theory”, and its influence on the lives of individuals and policy. 

By Briana Baumgarten and Melissa Mahadeo

Words like “addict” “substance abuse”, and “dependency” are often thrown around in the conversation surrounding substances, whether in discussion of an individual we know, or the policies that regulate safety of users on a larger scale. Without understanding the theories behind addiction or the simple differences between dependency and abuse, people are labelled “addict” and the consequences of these words influence many aspects of the lives of the affected individuals. Stigma of substance users, whether illicit or prescribed drug dependents, is rooted in outdated science and racist ideology, and newer research and theories present a more well-rounded conceptualization of what these terms mean, how they should be used, and the direction that policy should take to progress. 

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