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Biosocieties. 2017 Jun;12(2):217-238. doi: 10.1057/biosoc.2015.46. Epub 2017 Jun 28.

White opioids: Pharmaceutical race and the war on drugs that wasn't.

Author information

1
Drug Policy Alliance, 330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA.
2
Departments of Anthropology and Psychiatry, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA.
3
Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, 140 Old Orangeburg Road, Orangeburg, NY10962, USA.

Abstract

The US 'War on Drugs' has had a profound role in reinforcing racial hierarchies. Although Black Americans are no more likely than Whites to use illicit drugs, they are 6-10 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses. Meanwhile, a very different system for responding to the drug use of Whites has emerged. This article uses the recent history of White opioids - the synthetic opiates such as OxyContin® that gained notoriety starting in the 1990s in connection with epidemic prescription medication abuse among White, suburban and rural Americans and Suboxone® that came on the market as an addiction treatment in the 2000s - to show how American drug policy is racialized, using the lesser known lens of decriminalized White drugs. Examining four 'technologies of whiteness' (neuroscience, pharmaceutical technology, legislative innovation and marketing), we trace a separate system for categorizing and disciplining drug use among Whites. This less examined 'White drug war' has carved out a less punitive, clinical realm for Whites where their drug use is decriminalized, treated primarily as a biomedical disease, and where their whiteness is preserved, leaving intact more punitive systems that govern the drug use of people of color.

KEYWORDS:

addiction; heroin; prescription opioids; whiteness

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