Race as a Ghost Variable in (White) Opioid Research

Helena Hansen, Caroline Parker, Jules Netherland

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper traces the unspoken, implicit white racial logic of the brain disease model of addiction, which is based on seemingly universal, disembodied brains devoid of social or environmental influences. In the United States, this implicit white logic led to “context-free” neuroscience that made the social hierarchies of addiction and its consequences invisible to, and thus exacerbated by, national policies on opioids. The brain disease model of addiction was selectively deployed among the white middle-class population that had long accessed narcotics and pharmaceutical treatments for narcotics disorders from biomedical clinics, as opposed to from illegal sources subject to law enforcement. In turn, new treatments for opioid addiction were racially marketed to the same white clientele to which newly patented opioid analgesics were marketed, tapping into a circumscribed but highly lucrative consumer base that has long benefited from a legally protected, racially segregated safe space for white narcotics consumption. The connecting thread for the contemporary white opioid “crisis,” therefore, is white race as a ghost variable in addiction neuroscience and in its pharmaceutical and biotechnological translation.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)848-876
    Number of pages29
    JournalScience Technology and Human Values
    Issue number5
    StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


    • addiction
    • neuroscience
    • opioids
    • pharmaceutical science
    • race

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anthropology
    • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
    • Philosophy
    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Economics and Econometrics
    • Human-Computer Interaction


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