Pioneering Drug Policy Historian David Musto Dead at 74

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Dr. David Musto, who chronicled the history of US drug policy in 1973's The American Disease: The Origins of Narcotics Control, died last Friday of an apparent heart attack while traveling in China. The Yale University child psychologist and Carter administration drug policy advisor was 74.
David Musto
The American Disease offered a comprehensive treatment of American drug use and drug policy from the Civil War years to the present and is to this day a key text in the history of US drug policy. In it Musto, uncovered the historical correlation between public and official outrage over certain drugs and their use by feared or hated communities.

After its initial publication in 1973, New York Times book reviewer James Markham wrote that it would "probably become mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand how we got into our present mess." It was reissued and updated in 1987 and again in 1999.

Upon publication of The American Disease, Musto was named a presidential drug policy advisor. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the White House Strategy Council on Drug Abuse.

Musto also wrote, with Pamela Korsmeyer, The Quest for Drug Control, and was editor of One Hundred Years of Heroin and Drugs in America: A Documentary History.

Musto's historical research led him to adopt nuanced positions on drug policy that sometimes angered drug warriors and sometimes disappointed drug reformers. He was critical of employee drug testing programs, skeptical of the efficacy of needle exchange programs, and supported methadone maintenance for heroin addicts. He also complained about the impulse among the public and officials to seek quick and simple solutions to the complex problem of proper drug policy.

Musto died in Shanghai. He was in China to attend a ceremony honoring the donation of his books and papers to Shanghai University and the creation of the Center for International Drug Control Policy at the university.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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