When "Drugs" Become "Drugs": Issues of Pharmaceutical Abuse in France From the 1960S to the 1990S

Alexandre Marchant


Since the 1970s, media frenzies about drug addiction have focused mainly on illicit drugs taken by rebellious or marginalised addicts, relegating iatrogenic drug abuse, and policies and problems linked to psychotropic pharmaceu- ticals available by prescription or over-the-counter to the shadows. In this article I go beyond the division between illicit drugs and medicines still confi- guring both public representations and historiography: using archival mate- rials from the 1960s 1990s in France, I highlight some blind spots in drug history. Firstly I demonstrate the role of pharmaceutical abuse in the career of addicts, and then examine regulation policies, which are the dark side, however complementary, of drug policies and prohibition. Finally, I analyse the role of physicians and pharmacists in this control, and discuss the various professional debates relating to the legal supply of psychoactive drugs. In all these issues, the frame of the Cold War context will also be highlighted. 

Key words: Pharmaceutical - Illicit drugs - Addiction - Regulation 

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