Attitudes toward Other Drugs

The image of alcohol did not wax and wane in isolation from the public's perception of drugs such as morphine, heroin, and cocaine, although the peaks of their favorable and unfavorable public images did not coincide precisely with those of alcohol. The use of cocaine rose rapidly after its introduction into the United States in the mid-1880s. Not until the Harrison Act of 1914 did the federal government prohibit the sale of cocaine without a prescription. A similar restriction on alcohol, National Prohibition, was enacted five years later, and by the mid-1920s the federal government had moved to eliminate heroin completely as a legally obtainable substance (Musto, 2002b).

When one reviews the history of drugs and alcohol in the United States, it is apparent that the ethical debate and extent of control have been related to the healthy or poisonous image of those powerful substances. Interestingly, neither extreme was buried by the victory of the contrary position. The ascendancy of one point of view seems to have created the conditions for the gradual emergence of the opposite attitude. A further point worth noting is that in the campaign against drugs and alcohol, the American practice has been to condemn them as being without any but the most limited value as medicine, and to hedge any exemption with tight restrictions. The periods of favorable and unfavorable attitudes are rather lengthy compared with the human life span, and so each tends to be seen as the settled opinion of science and society, and the presence or absence of controls seems to be based on what appear to be established premises.

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