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

Julie Netherland, Helena Hansen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    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.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)217-238
    Number of pages22
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


    • addiction
    • heroin
    • prescription opioids
    • whiteness

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Health(social science)
    • Health Policy


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