Theses Bachelor's

Orange Handcuffs, Part of an (In)Complete Breakfast: Methadone's Failure to Address Structural Inequalities in the Civil Rights Era

Dobberteen, Lily

Methadone maintenance emerged in the midst of a great American drug panic. Concurrent with widespread civic unrest in disenfranchised communities, myths began to circulate amongst the press that young, white men returned to suburbia from the Vietnamese warfront hooked on heroin. The American medical community responded by pushing forth a new addiction treatment modality known as methadone maintenance, a daily prescription. Many methadone patients refer to the drug as “orange handcuffs,” as it is most commonly dissolved in orange juice for daily dosing. Methadone occupies the space at which the federal and medical intersect. This thesis argues aims to explicate the politics of methadone to understand larger themes and truths of the Civil Rights era. The first chapter dissects the theories undergirding methadone maintenance, which relied almost exclusively on biomedical definitions of drug use and addiction, virtually erasing issues of race and class. The second chapter explores methadone through a political lens, showing how politicians presented it as a means of crime reduction, which in turn bolstered state-based discrimination. In the final chapter, analysis of community-based responses to methadone exposes the failures of the program and the overarching structural oppressions at play. Methadone’s history ultimately illustrates macroscopic issues of racial injustice and assumptions about drug users, and offers a counter narrative that calls into question a widespread, “common sense” construction of medicine’s neutrality.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
American Studies (Barnard College)
Thesis Advisors
Vimalassery, Manu
B.A., Barnard College
Published Here
May 21, 2015