I am a historian of drugs with a focus on the legal kind--addictive medicines. I just finished writing a book, White Market Drugs: Big Pharma and the Hidden History of Addiction in America (University of Chicago Press, November 2020).


At the turn of the 20th century Americans built the foundations of modern drug policy based on binary thinking about drugs (medicines/drugs; therapy/abuse; freedom/prohibition; relieving pain/pursuing pleasure; etc.). Forged during an era of economic reform and racial segregation, these policies gave rise to a century of drug crises, in pharmaceutical white markets as well as informal (illicit) markets. Hidden in this century of failure, however, are hints of a more sensible and effective drug policy designed to protect white market consumers--policies drawn from the rich territory between prohibition and the "free market.White Market Drugs explores these historical experiments in drug policy through the stories of three major white market crises: morphine in the late 19th/early 20th century; barbiturates, amphetamine, and Quaalude in the mid 20th century; and opioids--again--in the 21st century. Americans have successfully minimized harms of addictive drugs without producing mass incarceration, and we can do it again, but only if we make good policy available for all drug consumers, not just the ones we call "patients." 

For an early glimpse of this research, see "Entitled to Addiction? Pharmaceuticals and Race in America's First Drug War," Bulletin Hist Med 2017.


You can find my work in, among other places, American Quarterly, the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, the American Journal of Public Health, the Washington PostAtlantic Monthly Online, and in a previous book, Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac (Johns Hopkins, 2009). I am also Coordinator of Addiction Studies at the University at Buffalo (SUNY) and co-Editor of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, the peer-reviewed, international journal of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society, published by the University of Chicago Press.


White Market Drugs: Addictive Medicines and American Drug Policy

Most observers describe the 21st century's opioid crisis as a recent and shocking development. But it is better understood as just the most recent crisis in more than a century of widespread use of addictive pharmaceutical sedatives, stimulants, and opioids. Indeed, addiction to pharmaceuticals has almost always dwarfed addiction to feared "street" drugs. I explore why addiction to pharmaceuticals has been so prevalent, for so long--and why Americans kept "discovering" it as something new and surprising. But I also look for what went right with these drugs: policies that protected drug consumers while caring for (rather than punishing) those harmed despite protections. Like the crises themselves, these policies are often forgotten, and are virtually never applied to "street" drugs or their users. Ultimately, White Market Drugs exposes the dangers--for both licit and illicit drug users--of our century-old decision to divide medicines from drugs and govern them separately. CLICK FOR FULL DESCRIPTION


  • "The company that makes OxyContin would become a 'public trust'--what would that mean? The Conversation, December 4, 2019; link

  • “America’s opioid epidemic,” NPR’s Throughline, April 4, 2019 link

  • Thomas Jefferson Fund, French American Cultural Exchange Foundation, “Crisis or not? Comparing opioids, addiction/overdose, and treatment in U.S. and France,” with Marie Jauffret-Roustide, 2019

  • (Co-organizer with Jen Read and Ken Leonard), Fulbright Summer Seminar on the Opioid Crisis, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, April 39-May 3, 2020

  • Drug Wars in America, University of Kansas, April 10-12, 2020

  • [keynote], Le consensus en santé et en environment: Analyse de la construction d’une pratique en context d’incertitude scientifique, Université de Strasbourg, February 6-7, 2020 [delayed; date TBD]

  • "Early U.S. drug regimes and medical and drug cultures," Oxford University Press Companion to Drug History (Paul Gootenberg, Ed.), forthcoming 2020

Happy Pills in America is a cultural history of modern psychiatric drugs framed around the stories of Miltown, Valium, and Prozac--three of the best known and most widely used medicines in the postwar era.  Beginning with the emergence of a medical marketplace for psychoactive drugs in the postwar consumer culture, Happy Pills traces how "happy pills" became embroiled in Cold War gender battles and the explosive politics of the "war against drugs"--and how feminists brought the two issues together in a dramatic campaign against Valium addiction in the 1970s. A final chapter examines how Prozac's boosters revived faith in wonder drugs by successfully joining consumerism and biological psychiatry to conjure visions of unbounded psychological free choice.



White Opioids. History portions of a volume on race and addiction pharmaceuticals co-written by Jules Netherland and Helena Hansen.

Stuck in traffic? Conflicting regimes of global pharmaceutical governance. With Jeremy Greene, an article for a special issue of Diplomatic History edited by Daniel Weimer and Matthew R. Pembleton on U.S. foreign relations and the "new drug history."

The pharmaceutical industry and mental health. With Mat Savelli and Dorian Deshauer, a chapter for a textbook edited by Mat Savelli, James Gillett, and Gavin J. Andrews, An Introduction to Mental Health and Illness: Critical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

Eukodal: A History of Oxycodone before OxyContin. With Nils Kessel, an article on the German-U.S. history of oxycodone, which was on the market for ages before becoming the 21st century's dangerous "wonder drug." What can we learn from the successes and failures of the drug's regulation?