Drugs in society

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Interest in drug use and application needs to be seen in the context of two countervailing forces. First, a new discipline of the body that focused on the problem of fatigue and had grand designs of social reform and modernising zeal. Second, a temperance movement that had focused on the social and physical problems associated with alcohol but then turned attention to other drugs by the end of the century. It is interesting that both had better health and better societies as their overarching principles. When a drug might be seen as a stimulant it would be praised for its help in resolving fatigue but if it was abused and became associated with vice or crime it would attract criticism. In other words, often it was not the drug itself that was really the issue, but how it was being (ab)used and by whom.

It can be argued that both sport and stimulant drugs are derived from the antifatigue movement of the mid-nineteenth century. Anson Rabinbach has argued that from the 1870s onwards fatigue was seen by scientists, writers, industrialists, and political activists as 'the chief sign of the body's refusal to bend to the disciplines of modern society' (1992: 38). Whether at home or in the colonies, European middle classes sought to transform those considered slothful, indolent, weak or ineffective:

The discovery and diagnosis of fatigue generated a proliferation of efforts to chart its course, find its cure, or at least modify its effects. Such efforts were joined not only by physiologists, but by social hygienists, engineers, psychologists, and social reformers for whom fatigue represented the threshold of human limitation; the barrier that society should strive to bring under control of medicine, technology, and politics. Underlying the anxiety and hostility that surrounded fatigue was the utopian ideal of transcending it. The result would be not only a vast release of the latent energies of society but a productivist civilization, resistant to moral decay and disorder. Behind the scientific and philosophical treatises on fatigue lurked the daydream of the late nineteenth-century middle-classes - a body without fatigue.

(Rabinbach 1992: 44)

The modernisation of sport was arguably an attempt to rationalise and discipline societies using structured physical activities. Team sports in particular were the products of urban, industrial societies, sponsored by factory owners to keep workers healthy, and encouraged by governments as a more acceptable leisure time activity than drinking alcohol. The late Victorians transformed working-class sport with a view to making it more rational, orderly, less violent and more socially acceptable (Holt 1992). In Europe and America religious organisations used sport as a means of channelling the energies of young people. And in the colonies, sport was a means of disciplining the indigenous people, improving their health so they could help improve their societies. Sport represented Western modernity. As Michael Anthony Budd has written on the cult of the strongmen in the early twentieth century:

The image of the physical cultural strongman supported claims of European superiority and pointed to the complexity of bodily desires that fuelled capitalist consumerism. Physical culture discourse and iconography thus vividly evoke the body politics of industry and empire in their articulation of the possibility of actual physical transformation.

It was understandable that, if scientists were interested in revitalising forms of stimulants such as coca or strychnine, athletes who sought success through good health would also use them. The ideology of modernity and progress that was linked to industrial productivity and the rationalising impulses of European and American cultures provided a backdrop to the development of drug use in sport. However, sport's supposed health and community benefits, more likely to be seen at lower levels of competition, would lead to an anti-doping ideology.

The countervailing trend came from religious and temperance movements anxious about the problematic effects of addiction, abuse, misbehaviour, decadence and degeneracy. This can be seen from the earliest discourse on coca leaves. The Spanish conquistadors thought chewing them was a 'vice' and were critical of their function in 'native' 'heathen' rituals (Berridge 1999: 216). The German natural scientist Poppig argued in 1835, after spending five years with 'natives' in the Peruvian Andes, that Europeans could not use coca without suffering health consequences and addiction. He recounted tales of Europeans going insane after over-consumption (Christison 1876).

American temperance campaigners were drawing attention to the misuse of drugs in society. In 1879 a public meeting in Massachusetts focused on 'concern over the health and moral problems created by the escalating use of habit-forming drugs and alcohol' (Goodwin 1999: 23). Such events were part of a middle-class reactionary movement based on religious values and anxiety over the state of the country's moral and physical health. All manner of accusations were made. In 1883, campaigners worried about opium being used by factory owners to combat workers' fatigue, and that shipping companies 'supplied coca leaves to increase the endurance and loyalty of stevedores on the New Orleans docks' (Goodwin 1999: 32). Around that time, activists claimed that addiction to opium and other drugs such as laudanum were more widespread than most people would believe. And even shop owners were under the spotlight: it was reported that 'drug store soda fountains laced other drinks with opium or cocaine to habituate young people to their establishments' (Goodwin 1999: 44).

By the late nineteenth century narcotics such as opium were treated like alcohol: as leading inevitably towards a life of vice and crime. Cocaine became associated with prostitutes and crime among working-class African Americans in the southern states. Heroin, cocaine and opium had been the focus of several legal regulations during the interwar period. In America, the first law limiting cocaine distribution was passed in 1897 in the state of Illinois. In 1906, the drug was officially criminalised in the Pure Food and Drug Act (Andrews and Solomon 1975). The media ran regular stories linking the drug to vice and crime. Prostitutes were said to be addicts, violence and murder fuelled by cocaine highs, especially in the black working-class communities. Thus 'the resentment of criminal and minority users combined with the fear that thousands of impressionable young men were ruining their lives with a cheap and accessible drug' (Courtwright 1995: 213) produced both a public outcry and legal response.

The irony of this connection was that if workers were introduced to cocaine by their employers in New Orleans and other Southern docks, then it was the desire to relieve fatigue in work that contributed to wider addiction and social problems. By 1900 this work-related drug use had spread among the local populations. 'Some saloons in black neighbourhoods had gone out of business because so many of their patrons turned to cocaine. Other saloons exploited the demand by offering the drug for sale on their premises' (Goodwin 1999: 121-2).

On both sides of the Atlantic, drugs were slowly becoming associated with social problems, health issues and addiction. The debate on drugs in sport reflected the debate on drugs in society: an on-going discussion on whether the potential benefits could be controlled and if they outweighed the broader risks. Stimulants in sport were being framed in the same way other drugs were, and Virginia Berridge sums up the changing attitudes to opium and heroin thus, 'the definition of drug taking as a problem - the whole "problem framework" which began hesitantly to emerge in the nineteenth century - remains now as a dominant and usually unquestioned legacy' (1999: 236). As the twentieth century progressed, doping in sport was accompanied by the question of risk and eventually the demands for policy intervention.

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