The Basics – The History of Narcotics Anonymous
Most of us know that Narcotics Anonymous was formed in 1953. But where did it come from? Who was Jimmy K. and why do people have bumper stickers saying he is their friend? Unfortunately, there are no books about our history like some other fellowships have.
What Is The Basic NA Story?
A.A. was the first 12-step program, and through it many with drug and drinking problems found sobriety. The 4th Tradition gives each AA group the autonomy to include or exclude non-alcoholic addicts from closed meetings – where only those with an expressed desire to quit drinking may attend. At open AA meetings non-alcoholics are welcome. As early as 1944 AA’s co-founder Bill Wilson discussed a separate fellowship for drug addicts. In 1947 NARCO (also called Addicts Anonymous) met weekly at the U.S. Public Health Service’s treatment center inside Lexington, Kentucky federal prison. In 1948 a NARCO member started a short short lived fellowship also called “Narcotics Anonymous” in the New York Prison System in New York City. Elsewhere in Fort Worth, Texas and Lorton, Virginia, and California other 12 Step fellowships of recovering drug addicts sprung up, and like those already mentioned, they were never officially a part of NA formation or development.
Narcotics Anonymous sprang from the Alcoholics Anonymous Program of the late 1940s, and was co-founded by Jimmy Kinnon. Meetings first emerged in the Los Angeles area of California, USA, in the early fifties. The NA program was officially founded in 1953.
In 1953 Narcotics Anonymous, originally called AA/NA, was founded in California by Jimmy Kinnon and others. Differing from its predecessors, NA formed fellowship of mutually supporting groups. Founding members, most of whom were from A.A., debated and established bylaws of the organization. On September 14, 1953, AA authorized NA to use of AA’s steps and traditions on the condition that they stopped using the AA name, resulting in the organization simply being called Narcotics Anonymous.
In 1954, the first NA publication was printed, called the “Little Yellow Booklet”. It contained the 12 steps, and early drafts of several pieces that would later be included in subsequent literature.
At this time, NA was not yet recognized by society at large as a positive force. The initial group had difficulty finding places that would allow them to meet, and often had to meet in people’s homes. One of the most difficult places for NA to become established was in the State of New York. The Rockefeller drug laws there had made it a crime for drug addicts to meet together for any reason, making NA in effect illegal. Addicts would have to cruise around meeting places and check for surveillance, to make sure meetings would not be busted by police. It was many years before NA became recognized as a beneficial organization, although some early press accounts were very positive. In addition, many NA groups were not following the 12 traditions very closely (which were quite new at the time). These groups were at times accepting money from outside entities, conflating AA with NA, or even adding religious elements to the meetings. For a variety of reasons, meetings began to decline in the late 1950s, and there was a 4-month period in 1959 when there were no meetings held anywhere at all. Spurred into action by this, Jimmy Kinnon and others dedicated themselves to restarting NA, promising to hold to the traditions more closely.
September 14, 1953. The response from A.A. World Services was that yes they were granted use of the steps and no they shouldn’t use the A.A./N.A. name. “S.F. Valley AA/NA” changed to “Narcotics Anonymous.” They also discussed looking for a facility. The group then wrote a purpose taken in large part from The Key, a newsletter from the hospital at Lexington.
September 21, 1953. The need for public information was seen and an announcement of the first meeting to be held on October 5 at the corner of Cantara & Clybourn in Sun Valley behind Sunland Lumber was made, and posters distributed. First mention of literature and P.I. “Gilda Krouse voted and accepted to print Our Purpose and contact all newspapers. Doris Canahan to contact all heads of Narcotics Div. of the Police Depts. Tommy Moore to have signs made up.”
October 5, 1953. Date for first regular N.A. meeting. From flyer, “Starting Monday night Oct. 5, 1953, Each Monday night thereafter at 8:30 P.M., corner of Cantara & Clybourn, Sun Valley, Calif. Directly behind the Sunland Lumber Company.” Seventeen people sign in. This meeting was held at the Salvation Army`s Dads Club. Once again the Salvation Army was one of the very few places willing to take a chance on addicts. Little is known about these first meetings.
In 1959, there was a week or two when no known meetings took place. This is actually one of the most significant things in our entire history because it triggered basic change. No more could anyone say it would work out on its own. A few members took personal responsibility and the results have been continuous meetings since then. Personal responsibility, sharing our experience in recovering from our disease and the willingness to do our part to help make it better for others are probably the three big building blocks for our entire Fellowship.
After a month, four members gathered to once again dedicate themselves to the carrying of the message. These have so far been identified as Jimmy, Sylvia W, Scott C, and Peggy K. They agreed that if over the next two years at least one addict could be reached, then their efforts would have been worthwhile.
In 1960, there was 1 N.A. meeting in the world.
In 1978, there were fewer than 200 registered groups in three countries.
In 1983, more than a dozen countries had 2,966 meetings.
In 1993, 60 countries had over 13,000 groups holding over 19,000 meetings.
In 2002, 108 countries had 20,000 groups holding over 30,000 meetings.
In 2005, 116 countries had over 21,500 groups holding over 33,500 weekly meetings.
In 2007, there were over 25,065 groups holding over 43,900 weekly meetings in 127 countries.
“When you look at another, or look at yourself, look on their strength with pride and their weakness with compassion.” ~ Jimmy K.
“What I have to remember, personally, is that I’m here, and possibly all of you are here, because of people who’ll never be here. The newcomer is the life blood of this organization, always has been, always will be.” ~ Jimmy K.
History of N.A. Literature
Here is an interesting (but long) website on the history of N.A. Literature, including the infamous Baby Blues:
History of N.A. Literature
Here is a copy of the 1st edition manuscript of the Basic Text. It is very different from today’s version.