New project: The Heroin Epidemic

An oral history of the heroin epidemic in the Netherlands, 1972-present

29 April 2015

Gemma Blok has started a new oral history project on one of the darkest aspects of recent urban history: the heroin epidemic in The Netherlands of the 1970s and 1980s

When heroin entered the Dutch market in 1972, cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam quickly evolved into hotspots of a new urban subculture, with hundreds of ‘junkies’ hanging around the train stations, sleeping in stairwells, solliciting for clients at the city outskirts, hassling for money, and finding peace in their attractive but risky trips to paradise.

Until now, the history of drug use has predominantly been studied from the perspective of institutions, focusing on drug policy and social care. In her new oral history project, Gemma Blok will study the heroin epidemic from a ‘bottom up’ perspective.

How do (former) drugs users themselves look back on their personal experience with heroin during the heydays of the epidemic? What was the impact of heroin on their personal lives? What were the cultural and social codes of the ‘junkie’ community? The aims of the project are to enlarge our understanding of the heroin epidemic as a sociocultural phenomenon, and to explore new ways of social history writing from below.


Gemma Blok is lecturer in Dutch History at the University of Amsterdam. She has published widely on the anti-psychiatry movement, addiction treatment, and public mental health care in Amsterdam and The Netherlands in the twentieth century.

Published by  ACUH