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Mainlining Along the Line: Consuming Heroin in the Great Lakes Border Region, 1945-1960

Holly Karibo (Arizona State University)

Employing a borderlands framework, this study examines the connections that linked heroin economies across the Michigan-Ontario border region during the post-World War II period. In seeks to integrate studies of traffickers and users by demonstrating that both were central to the transnational nature of the heroin economy in the border region. Building on the fluid nature of the border region, importers and traffickers were able to use cities near the national line as key spaces from which they could connect the drug markets in Canada and the US. Yet users themselves also crossed the border in order to buy drugs, consumer heroin, and engage in an urban subculture that crossed the national line. By engaging in illicit cross-border interactions, users reformulated postwar notions of mobility, consumption, and leisure, and attempted to counter some of the social and economic marginalization in cities undergoing deindustrialization, suburbanization, and economic decline. Ultimately, though, this article also demonstrates that cross-border mobility was limited by the larger structural inequalities shaping the region. Race and class disparities likewise emerged in the illicit economies, demonstrating that illegal heroin markets were in fact far more integrated into the political economy of postwar cities than many contemporaries wanted to admit. The history of illegal heroin markets in the Michigan-Ontario border region, then, is about much more than the margins of postwar cities; it also provides unique insight into the fracturing social lines shaping urban centers across the Great Lakes region.

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ISSN 1753-5794