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The history of drug abuse in the 20s and 30s was characterized mainly by prohibition although cocaine use and heroin use were going on. The 20s and 30s weren’t called roaring for nothing that’s for sure. There were huge parties, speakeasies, bootleggers and gangsters. Following that there was the rise of the Italian mafia distributing heroin. What was learned in the 20s and 30s was that no matter how illegal you make something use is going to go on. American saw it with prohibition of alcohol and the slow criminalization of heroin and cocaine taking roots in underground black markets.

History of drug abuse: Alcohol and Prohibition

The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s and 30’s in the United States is one of most famous, or infamous, times in American history. The point was to try and reduce the consumption of alcohol by eliminating businesses that manufactured, distributed and sold it. The prohibition era is associated with gangsters, bootleggers, speakeasies, rum-runners and just total chaos. The period began in 1920 with general acceptance by the public and ended in 1933 as the result of the public’s annoyance of the law and the ever-increasing enforcement nightmare.

The prohibition era set precedence for the amount of consumption of alcohol and smuggling of illegal substances in America. Most people didn’t appreciate the prohibition of alcohol and continued to attend the thousands of bars that sold alcohol illegally. Speakeasy’s like Bill’s Gay Nineties were raided quite often and even went as far as to install secret levers at the bar that would shoot the bottles of liquor down into the basement into a pit filled with sand so that the glass would not break. Inventive stuff!  Due to the overall sentiment against prohibition, police officials had a very hard time enforcing the law. From its very inception, the law lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the public who had previously been drinkers and yet completely law-abiding citizens.

Although the prohibition era was an important part of alcohol’s history in America it was far from the first time it became a hot topic.  The prohibition era was one of the victories from many years of efforts against the consumption of alcohol that branched from the American Temperance Society (ATS). ATS was founded in 1826 with a platform on temperance (the social movement urging the reduced use of alcohol) and also supported the abolition of slavery and expansion of women’s rights.

History of drug abuse: Cocaine

Eventually the public pressure became so great that there was a national prohibition of cocaine. The country’s legislators took notice, and in 1920 cocaine was added to the list of narcotics to be outlawed by the passing of The Dangerous Drug Act of 1920. Unfortunately, as with the opiates like heroin, the dangers of cocaine abuse were recognized by law makers after the fact. The market for cocaine had already been established and was deeply entrenched into American history and culture and is with us today.

History of drug abuse: Heroin

In the U.S.A., the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was passed in 1914 to control the sale and distribution of diacetylmorphine (heroin) and other opioids, which allowed the drug to be prescribed and sold for medical purposes.

In 1924, federal law made any use of heroin illegal. Within a decade, the Bureau of Narcotics had arrested some 50,000 users and 25,000 physicians.

During World War One, newspaper editors, police forces, politicians and “patriots” whipped up a climate of hysteria against seditious “dope fiends” (this term applied to cocaine users too) enslaved by “the German invention”. Heroin use was associated with anarchy, violence, and foreigners. The criminalization of heroin led to the almost inevitable rise of organized crime. Jewish gangsters such as Meyer Lansky dominated distribution in the 1920s. In the 1930s, they were superseded by the Mafia: this was the era of “Lucky” Luciano, the celebrated Sicilian mobster.

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