“Chemistry is the new hope”: Therapeutic Communities and Methadone Maintenance, 1965-71

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Historians generally agree that the “classic era” of narcotics control, a period of punitive drug policies and limited treatment options, came to an end in the early 1960s along with, among other things, the emergence of methadone maintenance treatment for heroin addiction. But methadone was not the only treatment model competing to replace the punitive system; throughout the 1960s therapeutic communities also competed for funding and political legitimacy. A close examination of the debate between promoters of these different approaches complicates the progressive narrative of addiction policy moving seamlessly from punitive and conservative to sympathetic and liberal approaches. A compromised treatment infrastructure that combined methadone, therapeutic communities, and criminal justice approaches to addiction, ultimately emerged from the conflict – a compromise that retained key elements of the carceral approach while minimizing the boldest challenges to it, thus laying the groundwork for the drug wars that followed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-216
Number of pages25
JournalSocial History of Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
local programs supported by the National Institute of Mental Health provided “aftercare” treatment. Some political conservatives saw prison as preferable to methadone not because it functioned as simple punishment or deterrent, but because it was part of what they saw as a valuable effort at rebuilding moral character. Seen as a benign extension of the “growing up” process, the therapeutic community model could be viewed as appropriate treatment for “at-risk” young adults from middle class families, despite its links to the criminal justice system.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2012, University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Law


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