Beyond the Medicines/Drugs Dichotomy: Historical Perspectives on Good and Evil in Pharmacy

  • Mills, J. (Organiser)
  • Thembisa Waetjen (Organiser)

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesOrganiser of major conference

Description

A collaboration between the CSHHH Glasgow, Johannesburg University, the Alcohol and Drugs in History Society and the Wellcome Trust. I acted as PI to secure funding from the latter, and my team organized travel, while we collaborated with colleagues in SA on related logistics and to create the conference line-up.

The dichotomy between pharmacologically-active substances considered legitimate (and therefore worthy of regulation as medicines, and also provided as public goods) and those considered problematic (and therefore deserving of moral and legal opprobrium, prohibition and sanction) has informed global regulatory regimes for decades. (Andy Gray, 2017)

Drug policies and ways of thinking and talking about substances and treatment approaches are changing fast, both at national and international levels. These changes reflect a growing acknowledgement of core contradictions within the legislative regimes Gray described above, crafted respectively for ‘drugs’ and ‘medicines’ from the nineteenth-century onwards. Subversions of this dichotomy have lately become more apparent in the public eye – for example, in widespread addiction to opioid painkillers; in the repurposing of pharmaceuticals for pleasure, sedation or sociability; in the scientific legitimation of previously restricted drug alkaloids for medical application. Increasing criticism of ‘war-on-drugs’ style governance, the liberalisation of cannabis laws, and the advocacy of harm reduction approaches to drug treatment are among the indications of shifting views even within governments themselves.

The organizers of this event argued that precise historical understandings of how this dichotomy has worked in practice, in multiple and very different contexts, are necessary in order to map possible alternatives and futures. To clearly identify who established and maintained classificatory boundaries, what interests lay behind their actions, how they have been challenged, and why it is only now that faith in them seems to be waning are important tasks for historians of health, medicines and modernities, and those working in related fields and disciplines.
Period4 Dec 20196 Dec 2019
Event typeConference
LocationJohannesburg, South Africa
Degree of RecognitionInternational

Keywords

  • narcotics, intoxicants, psychoactive substances, history, pharmaceuticals