Colleagues at Deakin University (Australia) have led another meeting of the Qualitative Methods Journal Club – this time discussing how class, gender, and race influence public and clinical discourses of the US opioid epidemic. They talk about the criminalisation of Black women and the racial privilege tied to opioid maintenance medications for White women.

As scholars and activists for people who use drugs have argued, discriminatory drug law enforcement, which targets marginalised communities under the guise of the ‘war on drugs’, is actually a ‘war on people’ – generating profoundly unequal outcomes and suffering for people of colour.

For the March 2023 meeting of the Qualitative Methods Journal Club, Dr Renae Fomiatti, Dr Kiran Pienaar, Dr Kyja Noack-Lundberg, and Dr Ashleigh Haw from Deakin University discussed Helena Hansen’s article, “Assisted technologies of social reproduction: pharmaceutical prosthesis for gender, race, and class in the White opioid ‘crisis'”, which was published in Contemporary Drug Problems in 2017.

Read their summary and discussion, where they talk through the tendency for media stories to depict White suburban women in sympathetic terms as ‘blameless, unwitting victims of addiction due to neglectful doctors who overprescribe opioids for pain relief’, and conversely, the tendency for Black and Latina women to be depicted as ‘neglectful mothers who chose drugs over their children’.

An interesting feature of the article, they point out, is the metaphor of ‘prosthesis’ to describe how pharmaceuticals such as opioid maintenance medication have been framed as tools for bolstering the lives and professions of White, middle-class women, in a way that reflects and reinforces their racial privilege within the opioid epidemic.

by Natalie Davies

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