Recent epidemiological trends

 Recent epidemiological trends in the recreational use of pharmaceuticals among young adults in the United States (US) highlight several issues regarding how drugs and drug users are problematized. This article compares some of my research on recreational pharmaceutical use in college contexts with the discursive efforts by government authorities and news media to confuse these practices and those who engage in them. This includes examining the cultural factors shaping this form of drug use and emphasizing how these developments require us to rethink fundamental meanings commonly associated with pharmaceutical drugs and those who use them and reevaluate the place of these drugs in Western society.

Two constructions of recreational pharmaceutical use are analyzed. On the one hand, categorical frameworks based on epidemiological data are created and circulated by governing institutions and popular media. They depict recreational pharmaceutical use as illicit in complete, absolute terms. This is done through discourses that equate non-medical pharmaceutical use with existing, culturally established forms of illegal drug use. These discourses have several distinguishing characteristics:

    They define all non-medical use as "abuse."
    They create cultural correspondences between illicit "hard" drugs and pharmaceuticals.
    They emphasize the user's intent to "get high" as the primary factor motivating use.

On the other hand, users' constructions of recreational pharmaceutical use describe this practice in more multi-dimensional terms, sensitive to social context, existing personal knowledge and experience, and individual perceptions of risk, drug effects, and social outcomes. These frames for understanding recreational pharmaceutical use reveal definitions of "abuse" and experientially-grounded perceptions that differ from those offered in categorical discourses.

Finally, this paper considers the implications of this state of affairs for the construction of recreational pharmaceutical use. The problematization of this practice points to intergenerational conflicts and struggles over definitions of "drug abuse" and "hard drugs." Ultimately, this process underscores the impact of pharmacy utilization processes on recreational drug use among US youth.

  • Recent epidemiological trends