Recurring Epidemics of Pharmaceutical Drug Abuse in America: Time for an All-Drug Strategy

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Observers describe today’s “epidemic” of pharmaceutical drug abuse as a recent phenomenon, but we argue that it is only the most recent of three waves stretching back more than a century.During each wave, policies have followed a similar pattern: voluntary educational campaigns, followed by supply-side policing and-sometimes-public health responses that would today be understood as “harm reduction.”These experiences suggest that only broad-based application of all three approaches to users of all drugs (not just pharmaceutical drugs) can produce a reduction in drug-related harm rather than merely shifting it from one type of drug to another. This has rarely happened because policy has been shaped by the racially charged division of drug users into deserving and morally salvageable victims, or fearsome and morally repugnant criminals.

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