Home > 'Being human' and the 'moral sidestep' in drug policy: explaining government inaction on opioid-related deaths in the UK.

Stevens, Alex (2019) 'Being human' and the 'moral sidestep' in drug policy: explaining government inaction on opioid-related deaths in the UK. Addictive Behaviors, 90, pp. 444-450. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.08.036.

External website: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/68861/

BACKGROUND: With drug-related deaths at record levels in the UK, the government faces two potential sources of pressure to implement more effective policies. One source is the individuals and families who are most likely to suffer from such deaths; i.e. working class people living in de-industrialised areas. The other source is experts who argue for different policy on the basis of research evidences.

AIM: This article aims to explain why, in the face of these two potential sources of pressure, the UK government has not implemented effective measures to reduce deaths.

METHOD: The article uses critical realist discourse analysis of official documents and ministerial speeches on recent British drug policy (2016-2018). It explore this discourse through the theoretical lens of Archer's (2000) ideas on 'being human' and by drawing on Sayer's (2005) work on the 'moral significance of class'.

RESULTS: Members of economically 'residual' groups (including working class people who use heroin) are excluded from articulating their interests in 'late welfare capitalism' in a project of depersonalising 'class contempt' through which politicians cast the people most likely to die as passive, 'vulnerable' 'abjects'. Conservative politicians dismiss 'evidence-based' ideas on the reduction of drug-related death through a 'moral sidestep'. They defend policy on the basis of its relevance to conservative moral principles, not effectiveness. This is consistent with the broader moral and political pursuit of partial state shrinkage which Conservative politicians and the social groups they represent have pursued since the 1970s.

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
March 2019
Identification #
doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.08.036
Page Range
pp. 444-450
Elsevier Science
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