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An addiction treatment category luminary, Dr. David E. Smith is the consulting physician at North Bay Recovery Center. He is a Fellow and Past President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, Past President of the California Society of Addiction Medicine, Past Medical Director for the California State Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, and Past Medical Director for the California Collaborative Center for Substance Abuse Policy Research.
Dr. Smith chronicles the rise of the Free Clinic movement that sprung from rampant substance abuse in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco during the Summer of Love in 1967.

An addiction treatment category luminary, Dr. David E. Smith is the consulting physician at North Bay Recovery Center. He is a Fellow and Past President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, Past President of the California Society of Addiction Medicine, Past Medical Director for the California State Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, and Past Medical Director for the California Collaborative Center for Substance Abuse Policy Research. Dr. Smith is the original Founder of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics of San Francisco and has been honored as one of the “Best Doctors in America”. Dr. Smith is also the Founder and Publisher of The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs and co-editor of The International Addiction Infoline Newsletter. In addition, he has authored or co-authored 26 books, written over 340 journal articles, edited 28 journals, and has been the technical consultant for 28 drug abuse-related films.

Inspired by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters described in Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test”, and their house band, The Grateful Dead, all fueled by “Owsley Acid” synthesized in the San Francisco Bay Area, large numbers of young people flocked to the Haight Ashbury with a philosophy of “Better Living through Chemistry”. Many now well-known musicians lived in the Haight Ashbury, such as The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe McDonald and members of Crosby, Stills and Nash. This philosophy peaked in the 1967 media frenzy with the Summer of Love, which generated world-wide attention (Brokaw, 2007).

What changed? Was it “Turn on, Tune in, & Dropout” as Timothy Leary stated with the beginning of the psychedelic drug revolution, or “Turn on, Boot up, Jack In” as Steve Jobs described the beginning of the personal computer revolution (Isaacson, 2011)? Or did the dream become a nightmare with the beginning of the speed epidemic which destroyed the Haight Ashbury in 1968 and continues to devastate both the Central Valley and rural communities across the country (Edwards, 2011; Owen, 2007a, 2007b; Smith, 1969b; Smith & Luce, 1971)?

Many of those using drugs lost or saw a decline in their capacity for taking care of themselves as the summer of 1967 drew to a close. Drug use quickly became drug abuse. The Summer of Love all too soon disintegrated into a dark period characterized by sexual predators and dealers of more toxic drugs like amphetamines. Like gravity, what goes up must come down; escapism is only temporary and reality is permanent. Some soldiers returning from Vietnam were addicted to heroin because it was so easy to get overseas and mitigated the horrors of the war they were fighting. They had passed through the neighborhood on their way to Vietnam and having found it attractive with the availability of sex and drugs, they returned.

The Haight Ashbury neighborhood went into a severe decline. Property values plunged, and most of the storefronts on Haight Street were boarded up until the mid-70s. People were afraid to walk the street.

The history of this turbulent period is still being written. In San Francisco and the Santa Clara Valley during the late 1960s, various culture currents flowed together. There was the nascent hacker subculture along with quasi-academics researching the effects of LSD on expanding human potential, and Ken Kesey, whose Merry Pranksters celebrated LSD with music and light shows featuring the band that became known as the Grateful Dead. In the Haight Ashbury, the hippie movement was in full swing, and in Berkeley, there was the anti-war free speech movement. This fusion of flower power and processor power prompted Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer and a product of the psychedelic 1960s, to comment, “There was something going on, the best music with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez and all the integrated circuit.”(Isaacson, 2011).

Experimentation with and use of drugs became more acceptable to a wider, more middle-class segment of the population, whereas earlier drug use – other than alcohol and nicotine – was perceived as having criminal associations. People today are more willing to experiment with drugs than they were previously. Certainly marijuana is more tolerated by more of society. There’s increasing acknowledgement that drugs like LSD enhance creativity and the ability to conjure abstract relationships, and that their use actually enhanced development of the Internet. The drug culture is well documented in many biographies. Drugs opened “doors of perception” but abuse slammed them shut.

The people who invented the 21st Century digital revolution were pot-smoking, acid-dropping, sandal-wearing, long-haired hippies from the West Coast. Like Steve Jobs, they were influenced by Kesey and Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog and saw things differently, Together they produced the Trips Festival in 1966, creating a sound and light presentation completely unlike anything attendees had ever experienced – especially after they’d ingested the LSD-spiked vats of Kool-Aid freely offered to them. Most of the hippie generation, on the other hand, scorned computers as the embodiment of centralized control, but a tiny contingent, later called the hackers, embraced them and set about transforming them into tools of liberation (Isaacson, 2011).

One of the many social movements that came out of that psychedelic era was the Free Clinic Movement, beginning with the founding of the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic on June 7, 1967 during the peak of the Summer of Love. Founded on the philosophy that “healthcare is a right, not a privilege”, its organizers were motivated by the same liberation and civil rights principles as the other progressive, counter-establishment movements of the time. The Clinic was also a response to the growing drug epidemic, which began with pot and LSD, then devolved to speed, which today continues to devastate the San Joaquin Valley and heroin abuse. Today at North Bay Recovery Center we’re seeing a rise in patients misusing prescription opioids such as Oxycontin. Part of the original Clinic philosophy was that addiction is a disease and the addict deserves the right to treatment. This was the beginning of the medical specialty of Addiction Medicine, which is now a Board Certified specialty, and the founding of the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, the oldest scientific addiction journal in the United States.

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