Carnegie Mellon University

Caroline Acker

Caroline Jean Acker

Associate Professor Emerita


Dr. Acker is a historian of medicine and public health whose research has focused on medical and scientific ideas about opiate addiction in the U.S. since about 1890. She came to this academic interest from her former work as director of a community-based drug information agency in Miami, Florida. She held the first DeWitt Stetten, Jr. Memorial Fellowship in the History of Twentieth-Century Biomedical Sciences and/or Technology at the National Institutes of Health from 1993-1994. Her book, Creating the American Junkie: Addiction Research in the Classic Era of Narcotic Control, weaves the experience of addicts with the efforts of researchers to understand addiction in the period when the American policy of drug prohibition was being established. She is also interested in the intersection between AIDS and drug policy. Through her work with Prevention Point Pittsburgh, a local harm reduction and needle exchange program, she has helped broaden the range of HIV prevention services available to injection drug users and increase local policy awareness of the health needs of this population.


Ph.D.: University of California, San Francisco, 1993


  • “How Crack Found a Niche in the American Ghetto: The Historical Epidemiology of Drug-Related Harm,” BioSocieties (2010).
  • Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000. Co-edited with Sarah W. Tracy. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004).
  • “Take as Directed: The Dilemmas of Regulating Analgesics and Other Psychoactive Drugs,” in Marcia L. Meldrum, ed., Opioids and Pain Relief: A Historical Perspective (IASP Press, 2003).
  • Creating the American Junkie: Addiction Research in the Classic Era of Narcotic Control (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).
  • “Planning and Serendipity in the Search for a Nonaddicting Opiate Analgesic,” in Gregory J. Higby, ed., Medicines: The Inside Story (American Institute for the History of Pharmacy, 1997).
  • “Addiction and the Laboratory: The Work of the National Research Council's Committee on Drug Addiction, 1928-1939,” Isis (1995).
  • “From All-Purpose Anodyne to Marker of Deviance: Physicians' Attitudes Toward Opiates from 1890 to 1940,” in R. Porter and M. Teich, eds., Drugs and Narcotics in History (Cambridge University Press: 1995).
  • “Stigma or Legitimation? A Historical Examination of the Social Potentials of Addiction Disease Models,” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs (1993).

Courses Taught

  • Medicine and Society
  • Introduction to Science and Technology Studies
  • Epidemic Disease and Public Health
  • Drug Use and Drug Policy
  • Ethics, History, and Public Policy Project Course

Department Member Since: 1993