Problems of substance abuse: exploitation and control

Soc Sci Med. 1985;20(12):1225-33. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(85)90375-2.


The notion of substance abuse is highly problematic. There is considerable disagreement amongst 'experts' as to the relative hazards and addictive properties of both legally and illegally available substances. There are also widely divergent sub-cultural attitudes to the harmfulness or benefit of drug use. One can assume no social consensus as to the nature of the contemporary 'drug problem', nor about the most appropriate means of dealing with it. There is, however, considerable evidence that criminalization of drug use, and harsh penalties against users and suppliers, are ineffective and counter-productive. Other models of control need to be considered, and in particular the merits and de-merits of the medicalization of drug abuse require examination. However, this is only one aspect of the problem. On the other side are the national and international corporations and syndicates, both legitimate and criminal, that earn vast profits from trade in toxic substances. Tobacco is legally available in every country in the world, and the industry is rarely subject to strict control. Thus the issue of substance abuse and control should be seen in a global context, in which account is taken of both legitimate and underworld operations. In attempts to control international trade in toxic substances, the limited success and the problems of already existing legal controls should be acknowledged. Local awareness and regulation of trade in substances is essential, but not sufficient. Amongst other avenues to be explored is the possibility of diverting presently illicitly grown narcotics into indigenous pharmaceutical industries in the Third World. Some problems with this strategy are noted.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Crime
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Public Policy
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*


  • Illicit Drugs