History repeats itself. History repeats itself. See? But seriously folks, substance use disorders are not a new thing. Today we take a look back to 1923, the issue of use and production of substances and how it relates to veterans of military service. Even back then, veterans and politicians alike were looking for “any legislation that will tend to lessen the unfortunate condition that exists to-day regarding the misuse of narcotic drugs.” History is here for us to discover what we can do better and how to learn from past mistakes and past triumphs. The urgency and clarity with which concern is shared echoes the words we speak now regarding rampant opioid use, which is presently causing “irreparable injury to health and morality, and resultant death from continued use.”
In 1923, the United States of America was deep into Prohibition, an era in which the U.S. declared the “manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors” illegal. Of course, folks were allowed to drink alcohol, which was not illegal in itself. Below is the transcript from meeting designed to voice concern about “narcotic production” and its impact on youth, veterans and the general public. It is interesting to compare this plea from 1923 to the FDA’s recent call for open meeting to discuss the Opioid Crisis. The issue of veterans returning from battle with substance use disorders has been a recurring theme in U.S. history. Read below to reveal the mirroring issues of yesterday and how we can use this recurring nightmare to help build better dreams for tomorrow.
I have also the following resolutions: Headquarters, District of Columbia Department, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Washington, D. C, February 12, 1923. At a meeting of this department, held at 472 L Street NYV., on this date, the following resolution was unanimously adopted: Whereas, the unlawful use in the United States of habit-forming narcotic drugs has grown to an alarming degree, with attendant irreparable injury to health and morality, and resultant death from continued use: and Whereas, this evil not only is a grave menace to society in time of peace, but threatens to impair the Nation’s defense in time of war by undermining the moral, mental, and physical strength of the youth of our land; and Whereas, all other efforts, directed towards control of transportation and sale of these drugs, have failed miserably to check the spread of the menace; therefore, be it Resolved, by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the District of Columbia- Department, in department meeting assembled, That we unqualifiedly indorse House Joint Resolution 430, which seeks to strike at the root of the evil by limiting production of opium and coco leaves, from which habit-forming nar- cotic drugs are derived, to the actual needs of medicine and science. Resolved further, That the department commander be directed to appear before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to present these resolutions and personally pledge the enthusiastic support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the fight against the illicit traffic in habit-forming narcotic drugs. Anton Stephan, Department Commander.
Any legislation that will tend to lessen the unfortunate condition that exists to-day regarding the misuse of narcotic drugs can not fail to receive the approval of the American Red Cross, which is deeply interested in all human welfare. May I add to this Red Cross approval my personal sympathy in the legisla- tion proposed by the resolution. Yours sincerely, Mabel T. Roardman. Secretary.”
This history lesson takes advantage of Public Domain Day 2019, in which “works from 1923 will be free for all to use and build upon, without permission or fee”. In this series, we look back at the way the United States government and culture thought about, discussed and legislated various substances. Recognizing the changes, evolution or in some cases de-evolution, of the public discourse surrounding substance misuse can help us to understand the time in which we live. Take a closer look at how the substance use disorders for veterans have been a common thread over the last century.
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