top of page
Author head shot

I am a Professor of History at the University at Buffalo (SUNY) researching the history of drugs, with a focus on the legal kind--psychoactive pharmaceuticals. My work explores the nature and trajectory of drug commerce, drug use, and drug policy in America. Among other places, you can find my writing in American Quarterly, the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, the American Journal of Public Health, the Washington Post, and in three books, White Market Drugs: Big Pharma and the Hidden History of Addiction in America (University of Chicago press, 2020), Whiteout: How Racial Capitalism Changed the Color of Opioids in America (University of California Press, 2023),  and Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac (Johns Hopkins, 2009). I am also Coordinator of the Drugs, Health, and Society program at the University at Buffalo (SUNY) and co-Editor of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, the peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal of the Alcohol and Drug History Society.

Cover of the book White Market Drugs
cover of book Happy Pills in America

Winner, Rorabaugh Book Prize from the Alcohol and Drug History Society (2022)


White Market Drugs tells the story of how the drug industry, regulators, journalists, and consumers together built mass, segregated markets for potentially addictive pharmaceuticals amidst the 20th century's racialized anti-"drug" campaigns.  It analyzes why these white markets faced three major periods of crisis over the past 150 years:  a crisis of morphine addiction in the late 19th/early 20th century; of barbiturate, amphetamine, and Quaalude addiction in the mid 20th century; and of all three classes of drugs in the 21st century. In response to these crises reformers sought to protect rather than punish socially favored white market consumers by robustly regulating rather than prohibiting drugs.  These successful but largely forgotten reforms were the closest the U.S. has come to effective drug policy, and could serve as a model for addressing current crises if applied to all consumers rather than just the ones we call "patients."

by Helena Hansen, Jules Netherland, and David herzberg

Winner, New Millennium Book Award, Society for Medical Anthropology (2023)

The first critical analysis of how Whiteness drove the opioid crisis.

In the past two decades, media images of the surprisingly white “new face” of the US opioid crisis abounded. But why was the crisis so white? Some argued that skyrocketing overdoses were “deaths of despair” signaling deeper socioeconomic anguish in white communities. Whiteout makes the counterintuitive case that the opioid crisis was the product of white racial privilege as well as despair.

Anchored by interviews, data, and riveting firsthand narratives from three leading experts—an addiction psychiatrist, a policy advocate, and a drug historian—Whiteout reveals how a century of structural racism in drug policy, and in profit-oriented medical industries led to mass white overdose deaths. The authors implicate racially segregated health care systems, the racial assumptions of addiction scientists, and relaxed regulation of pharmaceutical marketing to white consumers. Whiteout is an unflinching account of how racial capitalism is toxic for all Americans.

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.

bottom of page