The War Against Cocaine

Photo 1: Annie Meyers, before and after cocaine abuse
Photo 2: No Bed of Roses, a sensational anti-cocaine pulp fiction novel

"Coming Off The High

By the turn of the century, cocaine's aura of innocence was gone. The drug had acquired a grotesque new imagery: elongated fingernails to carry cocaine to the nostril, nasal douches to soothe disintegrating tissue, hypodermic needles to delivery vastly strengthened doses. The Parke-Davis syringe kit, intended for medical emergencies, could be found in many home medicine cabinets. The American Pharmaceutical Association observed that cocaine imports increased 40 percent from 1898 to 1902 while population grew just 10 percent. Use of the drug continued to flourish- despite regulation under the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act- but its reputation had already been tarnished. In 1902 a Chicago woman named Annie Meyers, "a proper Christian," described in grueling detail her Eight Years in Cocaine Hell, the first female drug expose. Magazines and newspapers fueled an anti-cocaine campaign with hysterical accounts of young girls being lured by the drug into the white slave trade and men so coked up that they were immune to otherwise fatal gunshot wounds. Cocaine's pendulum was swinging the other way."

-p. 61, Cocaine: America's 100 Years of Euphoria and Despair in Life Magazine (May 1984)

"Some historians believe the blacks of the South turned to cocaine when most of the states passed legislation which effectively barred them from access to alcohol. Some undoubtedly did get into cocaine in this way, but the majority began buying cocaine for the same reason as their white counterparts-they liked it.
However cocaine use started among Southern blacks, articles began to appear on the subject expressing more than a little concern. In 1898, the Medical News carried a story which especially associated cocaine abuse with Southern blacks. In 1900 an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association told its readers: "The Negroes in some parts of the South are reported as being addicted to a new form of vice- that of cocaine 'sniffing' or the 'coke habit'! By 1902 enough attention had been given [to] the subject that the British Medical Journal printed a piece entitled, "The Cocaine Habit Among Negroes," in which it was revealed that "On many Yazoo plantations this year the Negroes refused to work unless they could be assured that there was some place in the neighborhood where they could get cocaine, and it is said that some planters kept the drug in stock among the plantation supplies and issued regular rations of cocaine just as they used to issue regular rations of whiskey."
This use of cocaine by Southern blacks coincided with that period when the white South was in the last stages of dismantling the remnants of Reconstruction. Legal segregation, voting laws shaped to deprive blacks of any share in the political process, and lynchings to impress them of the realities of life in the South, were all at their peak during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Quite naturally, the whites responsible for these actions were a bit uneasy, and there uneasiness was not lessened by the generally held belief that cocaine would act as a "spur to violence against whites."...
Newspaper articles appeared linking cocaine with black violence. In 1903, the New York Tribute printed a statement by one Colonel Watson of Georgia altering the country to the dangers of allowing blacks to use cocaine. According to him, Atlanta was a hotbed of black "coke" use and he urged that legal action be taken to stop the sale of Coca-Cola. (The company responded by voluntarily eliminating cocaine from the drink that same year.) The colonel was convinced that "many of the horrible crimes committed in the Southern States by the colored people can be traced directly to the cocaine habit. This ploy, the association of cocaine with crimes allegedly committed by blacks, became immensely popular...
The equating of blacks and cocaine with crime was so firmly established by 1910 that when Dr. Christopher Koch, the leader of a Philadelphia crusade against the drug, in testimony before a congressional committee holding hearings on the possibility of drafting a federal anti-narcotics law, pointed out the dangers the country faced at the hands of cocaine-crazed Southern blacks, his testimony went unchallenged. Dr. Koch was later quoted as asserting that "Most of the attacks upon white women of the South are the direct result of a cocaine-crazed Negro brain," a piece of nonsense which, so far as I can determine, also went unchallenged. But by this time the chance of common sense's intervening and asserting facts about the effects of cocaine couldn't be said to exist. Once the equation blacks plus cocaine equals raped white women, had taken hold in the national consciousness and the deepest sexual fears of white America stirred, any argument likely to aid in the total outlawing of cocaine was both believed and welcomed."

-pp. 81 -83, Cocaine: Its History, Uses and Effects by Richard Ashley (1975)

"There are reports that law enforcement officers in the South switched to high caliber guns to protect themselves from the supposed menace of cocaine-using blacks on the rampage. This fear of minorities plus the increasing knowledge of cocaine's abuse led many state governments to restrict the use of cocaine. Thus, in 1914 the federal Harrison Narcotics Act prohibited the use of this drug in patent medicines and made the recreation use of cocaine illegal, as it remains today. As a result of these measures, the manufacture, distribution, and use of cocaine became strictly regulated. From the 1930s to the late 1960s, except among such individuals as entertainers and jazz musicians, the abuse of cocaine was largely non-existent."

-p. 57, The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs: Cocaine, The New Epidemic by Chris-Ellyn Johanson, Ph.D. (1986)

Related Articles:

Annie Meyers
No Bed Of Roses


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