Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose Prevention

by Nancy D. Campbell

Hardback Publication Date: 24/03/2020

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"According to the CDC, between 1999 and 2017, more than 700,000 Americans died as a result of drug overdose. In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids such as heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was 6 times higher than in 1999. The news is rife with stories surrounding the opioid crisis-from settlements with drug companies, to effective treatment options-even the resistance among museums to accept donations from the Sackler family (which built its fortune on pharmaceutical sales of OxyContin). What was once perceived as a marginal problem has now entered the mainstream, and this book looks at its rise. Nancy Campbell, professor and department head in STS at RPI, traces the history of overdose and overdose prevention. Her research centers on how ideas about drugs and drug addiction have changed over time. She wants to know what we actually know about drug addiction, and how we know it. Why do we have the drug policies that we do? And why do we consider some drugs to cause social problems, and others to solve them. Most importantly, Campbell asks, why did it take tens of thousands of opioid-related overdose deaths annually before a movement rose up to put this technology into the hands of those who needed it most? The book centers around the political contexts within which overdose and overdose prevention became problems that could be solved with a technological fix. As is the case with all such fixes, the social, political, and economic terrain within which they are implemented matter for their success. The book provides an accessible history of how naloxone works in the United States and the United Kingdom, both places that have experienced exponential increases in overdose deaths during the early 21st century (albeit at different scales). As a historical book, it interweaves the story of naloxone's predecessor, nalorphine, with the story of the pharmacological dynamics of the so-called narcotic antagonists. All of the technical terms involved-agonists, antagonists, opioids, and opiates, are clearly defined in the introduction, and in punchy, non-technical prose at that. But it is the story of the protagonists-the people of naloxone-that matters most to Campbell. The protagonists of these social and scientific movements have broadened naloxone access, changing law, medicine, and society-and have saved countless lives. This book, then, traces the story of a single molecule through its multiple social lives, from the enclaves of its past into the wider worlds of its present. We're starting to see a number of books on the market about this epidemic, but what Campbell is doing here is looking specifically at the social movement (the harm reduction movement) aimed at preventing preventable deaths, and the role Naloxone has played in those efforts. Campbell concludes on a powerful note, pointing out that even though we have a technology that can help stop-in-its tracks sudden death, until we start really examining the root causes and circumstances surrounding the rise in opioid abuse and uptake in the first place, this problem is going nowhere"--
Clinical & internal medicine
Publication Date:
MIT Press
Country of origin:
United States

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