Editors’ Note: The following is the final installment in our series of reports on the biennial ADHS conference held in Buffalo. Our thanks to Michael Durfee, Nancy Campbell, Joe Gabriel, and Michelle McClellan for their earlier posts. This time, Joe Spillane tries his hand at post-conference reflection.
Licit Drug Wars
Historians of so-called “licit” drugs face a number of challenges in their work. Where does that term–licit drugs–even take us, and what does it mean? In general, of course, it means a focus on regulated-but-legal products of the pharmaceutical industry, but the boundaries of the term are pretty fuzzy. Still more challenging, it seems to me, is the task of navigating a field where contemporary thought is so dominated by two strong, competing narratives. The first I’d call the “consumer protection” narrative, in which licit drugs are generally viewed with suspicion as products of an exploitative corporate culture that dupes physicians and victimizes consumers. The liberal drug warriors, in effect. The second is what I’d call the “social control/moral panic” narrative, in which efforts to control licit drugs reflects an aggrandizing tendency of state bureaucracies to control all aspects of human behavior, and in which licit drugs (like other substances) are subject to panicked reactions by a society viewing them through the distorting lenses of race, gender, and class. Four intrepid souls made the journey on this panel.