Published on Brock University (http://www.brocku.ca)
Most laws are created to shape social behavior and drug laws are no different.
Expanding our knowledge of the origins of drug laws, Dan Malleck investigates the many influences that contributed to the creation of restrictive drug policy in Canada.
His research project “Baneful influences: The origin of drug control in Canada, 1800-1911,” was awarded a three-year Insight Grant worth $79 470 from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
The insight program supports excellence in scholarship to advance the collective understanding of individual and societal challenges.
“There is not much research looking at the period before Canada’s federal drug laws were passed,” says Malleck, associate professor in Community Health Sciences.
As a doctoral student in the 1990s, Malleck explored the origins of drug laws that emerged in the 19th century. His doctoral research focused on the development first of provincial and then federal drug restriction, but it was focused mostly on the eastern half of the country.
This grant will allow him to expand the research to the whole country, and recognize the complex regionalism of Canada.
“The very idea that drugs are ‘bad’ has social and cultural origins, just like the laws do,” Malleck explains. “In my research I explore how we got to the point in Canada where we thought some drugs were so dangerous that federal legislation had to severely limit their use. At the time, such restriction was very rare.”
“It helps us to understand what people believe today about the morality of drug use.”
One of the unique aspects of this project is the development of a historical prescription database. Using prescription records from pharmacies across the country from the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, Malleck hopes to gain insight into the prescribing patterns of doctors in the past, and understand how policy change affected the actions of doctors and patients.
“For example,” Malleck explains, “a law like the Opium Act of 1908 may have caused doctors to change the type of drugs they prescribed. Conversely, it may also have driven formerly recreational opium users to seek help from physicians.”
Malleck hopes that this research will enable us to understand not only the social factors affecting drug policy in the past, but also to shed light on the various cultural and social factors that drive restrictive drug policies today.
“Our ideas about drugs are rooted in the past,” Malleck says, “but those ideas, some of which are simply incorrect, shape current drug policy.”
Understanding this process can help to shape better drug laws in the future, he adds.