Resisting the pathologisation of women in research of alcohol and pharmaceuticals

I was recently reading Dr Jessica Taylor’s latest book Sexy but Psycho: How the Patriarchy Uses Women’s Trauma Against Them. Taylor is a working class, radical, lesbian feminist who has a proven track-record working with traumatised women and girls. In this book she argues for a trauma-informed approach to working with women and girls and documents the long-standing tendency by the patriarchy (systems that uphold male power) to pathologise them as a result of their traumas, reframe them as mental illness, and unnecessarily medicate them for these ‘disorders’.

Pre-existing research shows that women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety and somatic disorders, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, phobias, suicide ideation and attempts, postpartum depression and psychosis, eating disorders and PTSD (Riecher-Rossler, 2016). Furthermore, women are more likely to be diagnosed with multiple psychiatric disorders at one time (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2019).

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Women’s Fight for Sexual & Reproductive Health Rights

Editor’s NoteIn light of the forthcoming US Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v Jackson, Maeleigh Tidd provides her third contribution to the Pharmaceutical Inequalities series which considers its implications for women’s access to reproductive healthcare. In doing so, she reaches back to the 19th century to explore American women’s historical access to, and use of, contraception and abortion. The Pharmaceutical Inequalities series is funded by the Holtz Center and the Evjue Foundation.


As we approach the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court ruling a women’s liberty to have an abortion, we were struck with a leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s opinion of overturning this Constitutional right for women. But, perhaps, this is only the beginning of the regression of women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health.  

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Sex, Vaccines, and Drug Prescriptions

Editor’s Note: This post by Ejura Salihu is the third in our Pharmaceutical Inequalities series. Ejura’s experience of a disrupted menstrual cycle post-COVID19 vaccination prompted her to write a much-needed commentary on why medical trials repeatedly overlook women’s needs and health. The Pharmaceutical Inequalities series is funded by the Holtz Center and the Evjue Foundation.

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Elizabeth Bass, The G-Woman at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics – Part 1

Editor’s Note: In the first of two posts which offer new additions to former ‘Points’ feature ‘Hidden Figures of Drug HistoryBob Beach explores the colorful career of Elizabeth Bass prior to her role as a G-Man within the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

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Criminalizing Addiction in Motherhood: A Modern Phenomenon

The third post in this three-part series on Drugs, Women, and Families is based on the valuable research of Jamie Feyko, who during my drug law seminar investigated how pregnant women with substance use disorders are treated in the United States. In short, they are blamed, villainized, and punished. The trend toward criminally charging pregnant women who use drugs with crimes began in the 1980s and has been growing ever since. Feyko’s review of major cases reveals the extent to which politics and racism drive this phenomenon. But she also contextualizes this history within a set of cultural assumptions about motherhood and pregnancy that leave many women with few options for treatment and care. 

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A Tale of Two Clauses: Due Process in Racialized Reproductive Freedom

For Women’s History Month, I’m so pleased to celebrate three women who have each, through their original work, taught me important lessons about the history of drug control. This second post in my series on Drugs, Women, and Families summarizes an exceptional research paper written by Lydia Wendel during my seminar in drug law last year. She identified two very different constitutional and legislative histories that defined reproductive freedom: one path for white women and another path for all other, or BIPOC, women. The U.S. Constitution’s “due process of law” clause appears twice, commanding both federal and state governments to provide it to all citizens. Wendel’s remarkable insight into how these words have worked to protect the rights of some women while forsaking others gave me a deeper understanding of this difficult and vital aspect of constitutional law. She arrives at a chilling conclusion: that these two constitutional paths are now converging to the detriment of overall reproductive freedom for all women in the United States.

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The Real War on Families: U.S. Child Welfare Law in the Shadow of Drug Prohibition

This post is the first in a three-part series on laws related to drugs, women, and families, written in observation of Women’s History Month. The series is based on original research conducted by three talented women who graced my historical seminar in law at Ohio State University during autumn 2021. 

Today’s post summarizes the excellent work of Karen Augenstein. As she writes, the inherent value of family is deeply rooted in U.S. law; yet in legislating drug control over the past 50 years, “the importance of family was forgotten in favor of punishing those with substance abuse issues in the worst way possible: taking away their children.” The paper covers three major acts of Congress (in 1974, 1980, and 1997) that form the basis of child welfare law. These laws prescribed punishments for parental drug use that led to unprecedented rates of family separation and an “explosion of the foster care system,” while parental incarceration resulted in “harsh, impossible requirements for reunification.”  

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The Instruments of Darkness Tell Us Truths: A History of Heather Edney & The Santa Cruz Needle Exchange

Editor’s Note: Today’s post in honor of Women’s History Month comes from Greg Ellis. Ellis and Heather Edney are currently writing an insider’s account about Edney’s early pioneering needle exchange work in Santa Cruz during the AIDS epidemic prior to the advent of protease inhibitors. Edney’s innovative ideas about harm reduction flourished in a male-dominated field and changed the face of modern healthcare and recovery. The memoir will be an imprint of Anthology Press.

junkphood - How to Spot a Coke OD
How to Spot a Coke OD, from the “Coked-Up Puffs” edition of junkphood, artwork by Brooke Lober, 1995. Image courtesy of Heather Edney

But ‘tis strange and oftentimes, to
win us to our harm, the instruments
of darkness tell us truths, win us with
honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.

—Macbeth act 1, sc. 3, l. 124-8

There is a simple principle in the field of harm reduction that drug users are the experts on using drugs. But what exactly does that mean? Strong governmental and institutional pressures to uphold systemic standards and anti-drug laws frequently foster mistrust between drug users and social service providers.

In her soon-to-be-published memoir and harm reduction manifesto, titled Sucking Dick for Syringes, long-time harm reduction activist Heather Edney recounts the history that led her to bridge the divide from the shooting gallery to the boardroom. Edney, who was instrumental in building the pioneering Santa Cruz Needle Exchange Program (SCNEP) in the 1990s, writes about the intersection of drugs, sex, and running an illegal syringe exchange. Her innovative risk reduction modalities ultimately created some of the most revolutionary and lasting changes during the infancy of the field. Her ideas and techniques have saved countless limbs from infection and loss, prevented unknown numbers of seroconversions, and introduced the concept of holistic healthcare to marginalized and criminalized populations.

Heather Edney operated in the world of drugs for much of her young life before landing in Santa Cruz, California, at the age of 19—where she learned about the fledgling needle exchange program run by a dedicated group of volunteers. Edney employed the skill set developed from a childhood of sexual trauma and familial dysfunction, quickly rising to a leadership position and ultimately creating an internationally renowned needle exchange model.

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