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Pharmaceutical Inequalities

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Pharmaceuticals, and the processes of pharmaceuticalization, have valuable stories to tell about social justice, equity, and inclusion in scientific and technological processes. To date, much has been written about discriminatory drug laws disproportionately targeting persons of color or the ways in which socioeconomic status are associated with substance use disorders, yet pharmaceutical inequities also clearly persist in dedicated healthcare spaces and society around the world. Such inequities, which have bases in scientific and technological development, affect people from marginalized communities—and negatively impact broader public health outcomes. Over the next six months we intend to explore these issues within a new feature on Points : Pharmaceutical Inequalities.

One of the underlying drivers of Pharmaceutical Inequalities is that the fields of drug and alcohol studies and fields of pharmacy/pharmaceutical history might benefit from a closer conversation with ideas drawn from science and technology studies (STS). As such, this section of the blog will purposefully introduce various concepts in STS (for example: “epistemologies of ignorance,” “co-production,” “boundary objects,” and “impure science”) in order to prevent disciplinary siloing, familiarize multiple audiences with certain nomenclatures, and even improve methodological approaches for scholars. Admittedly, that sounds heavy, but we will shoot for fundamentally informative and entertaining content.

Contributors to this series have latitude to develop their own ideas and in determining its scope we have wanted to avoid being overly prescriptive. Yet, we are very interested in several core themes that we feel deserve greater attention:

  1. The first is the science and technology of pharmaceutical advertising in historical context, from broadsheets and newspapers to radio to television, to new digital apps and cookies.

  2. The second is vaccine hesitancy, pharmaceutical resistance, and structural racism, which requires little explanation when considering how intergenerational trauma and unprincipled scientific experimentation has contributed to distrust/mistrust of biomedicine.

  3. The third theme where we wish to place a spotlight is the business and culture of psychedelic medicine. There is no shortage of content in this area, but we want to encourage new perspectives and ideas.

  4. The final core theme is indigeneity, science, and pharmaceuticals; it has become increasingly apparent that pharmaceutical knowledge has been, and continues to be, based on unethical bioprospecting or the deliberate co-optation of traditional knowledges for the same marketing and profit-driven ends.

The posts in this series will reflect works in progress, in addition to the translation of research findings from academic papers and monographs, conference panels, and historical exhibits. Contributing authors will share their reflections in numerous modalities over the coming months, and we welcome any additional submissions from the field that align with the themes and mission of this feature.

Initial thanks to Ana Maria Ortiz Bernal, Amanda Rose Pratt, Maeleigh Tidd and Ejura Yetunde Salihu for their upcoming work as contributing authors.

This Pharmaceutical Inequalities series is graciously funded by the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies and the Evjue Foundation, both of which are based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Feature photo credit: Volodymyr Hyrschchenko


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