Drug History Canada

Musings on the history of drugs in Canada.

Month: April, 2012

Funding disclosure

In the next few years this blog will get more substantial.  I just received funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to continue my research work in the history of drug policy pre-1911.  This will include creating and making digitally available substantial reference material relating to the history of pharmaceuticals and drugs more generally.

The material on this blog, while funded by SSHRC, in no way reflects the policy or perspectives of the Government of Canada.  It is an intersection of academic historical work and current observations.

Recently there has been some discussion in the USA about the need for political bloggers to state their funding sources. With that in mind, and because I have nothing to hide, I am stating the following

In the spirit of academic freedom I can attest that there is no hidden agenda or puppet master’s strings behind this blog.  The views on this site, unless specifically referenced to others, are those of me alone.

This disclaimer should make our Tory overlords happy, although my opinions on their policies may not.

(c) Dan Malleck, 2012.

Why do pharmacists control access to certain drugs?

I had a student who is diabetic come to speak to me today, and in the meandering way conversations I get into with students go (usually my fault), she ended up asking the rhetorical question “why do I have to get my insulin from a pharmacist?”

It is a good question.  As I noted in the last post, the issue of the “dangerous”ness of drugs drove the construction of control of access to some drugs.  But what about insulin?  It’s not addictive; it’s not really poisonous (at least no less so than non-drugs you could surreptitiously administer and kill someone, like antifreeze) and it’s an essential substance for some people to receive artificially.

To be honest, I’m not sure.  I told the student that she could do a directed reading with me and we could explore the idea. I love it when I have motivated students like that, and questions I can’t answer.

I do have some guesses, though.  They are really nothing more than suppositions based upon my thin knowledge of the process

  1. Insulin, when it was first isolated, was relatively difficult to get your hands on.  Controlling access through a pharmacist or doctor would allow its use to be judicious.
  2. Controlling access to insulin was easy to justify because diabetes itself had to be diagnosed.  Without such a diagnosis, you’d not know you had diabetes. So there was no real way to self-diagnose, and no need in the market to have it available for over the counter sale.
  3. By the time insulin had been isolated and seen to be an important medical tool, the idea of expanding medical jurisdiction over access to such technology was sort of a given. Maybe it was just natural that new important substances like insulin would be available only by prescription.
  4. It made it more expensive. Big pharma loves something that makes drugs more expensive (I doubt this was the case).
  5. It needs to be injected, which makes the hormone insulin need to be administered by docs.  See #2.
  6. None of the above
  7. Many of the above.

I really have no idea.  I will look into it though.  It’s a compelling thought, and will fill out the complexity of my narrative on the relationship between legislation that controls access to medicine, and the authority and social role of the medical industrial complex.

Interested in this question?  Have some ideas?  Post a response.  Share thoughts.  I have to come up with a reading list at some point, so you’d make my job a lot easier.

Your responses are copyright: you.

My post is (c) Dan Malleck. 2012.

Where did the dangers of drugs come from?

In the next little while I’ll be musing on the origins of the idea that drugs, and especially drug addiction, is a problem.  there has been a lot of work on this, so I am going over very charted territory.

My concern is that the work on the idea of the “discovery of addiction” as Harry Levine named it, has focused generally upon official discussions, medical discussions, and those of commentators.  But not, from what I’ve read, on how policies and professional lobbying affected ideas of the meaning of drug consumption

In my dissertation, I took this back to basics, looking at the emergence not of prohibitory drug laws of the early 20th century, but rather of the first attempts to control in any systematic way the access to drugs: pharmacy laws of the mid- to late- nineteenth.  Here we have the idea of a substance that can kill you being labelled a poison and duly controlled.  After that, within a few decades, the idea of 1) controlling the public’s access to certain substances for their own good and 2) controlling what a person takes into their body under the idea that the damage, while not death, could undermine the individual’s physical capabilities really took off.  It was a constellation of influences.  I’ve discussed it somewhat in my 1997 article “Its Baneful Influences are too well known” published in the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History.  I also published, a few years later, an article on the development of the idea of addiction in asylum treatment, and then also on the tension between physicians and pharmacists over the control of access to drugs.

These are merely a few of the many influences over the shifting perceptions of habitual drug use.  From a simple habit to a complex socially problematic condition or even “disease,” drugs, their habitual use, and the multifaceted impact this behaviour has on society have deep and interwoven roots.  The process of deracination is long and difficult.

I’ll try to make it straightforward in subsequent posts, but if you’re really interested, I can post a reading list.  I promise it won’t be all my work; I don’t have that kind of ego!

 

(c) Dan Malleck, 2012.