characterized America’s “war against drugs”?  Licit drug abuse has consistently dwarfed “street” drug use, yet drug war scholarship focuses mostly on heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.  I explore the long history of the licit drug cultures that are regularly “discovered” as new and ominous social threats. Full description.

Pharmaceutical consumerism. A series of targeted research projects, some in collaboration with Jeremy Greene, exploring the role of consumerism in pharmaceutical history, and the role of pharmaceuticals in the history of the consumer culture.

Race and public housing in Buffalo, NY.  With the Erie County Fair Housing Partnership, Squeaky Wheel, and history graduate student Steve Peraza, research, public events, and a documentary film on the history of race and public housing in Buffalo.
I am a U.S. cultural historian specializing in the history of medicine, with a particular interest in how encounters with health and illness have been transformed in the 20th century’s consumer culture. My work explores these issues in the context of modern prescription pharmaceuticals, especially sedatives, stimulants, and painkillers.  Among other places, this work has appeared in American Quarterly, American Journal of Public Health, Points: The Blog of the Alcohol and Drug History Society, and in a book, Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac (Johns Hopkins, 2009).  I am currently working on a history of prescription drug abuse in the 20th century.
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.
David Herzberg
Associate Professor
History Department
546 Park Hall, North Campus
University at Buffalo (SUNY)

  • Rethinking the Drug War, Organization of American Historians, April 16-19, 2014
  • "Addicts in unexpected places: The class politics of addiction in the "classic era" of narcotics control," American Association for the History of Medicine, New Haven, CT, April 30-May 3, 2015
  • "Addiction to prescription drugs," Addictions Old and New, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, October 22-23, 2015
  • "Gender and drug wars" (symposium organizer), Baldy Center on Law and Social Policy, Spring 2016

When Good Drugs Go Bad: A History of Prescription Drug Abuse. A book-length history of prescription drug abuse and addiction in the 20th century United States. Why have vast and growing markets for prescription uppers, downers, and narcotics
Updated December 22, 2014