Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of Anthropology

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, 45 pages) : 1 color illustration.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Elise L Andaya

Committee Members

Lawrence M Schell, Christine T Bozlak


Addiction Services, Drug Policy, Harm Reduction, Neoliberalism, Stigmatization, Opioid abuse, Drug abuse, Harm reduction, Discrimination in medical care, Stigma (Social psychology), Stereotyping

Subject Categories

Public Health | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Across the U.S., concerns regarding substance abuse, addiction, and treatment are coming to the forefront of public discourse, due to increased media coverage of the popularly dubbed ‘opioid crisis.’ As overdose rates increase, particularly in rural and suburban white communities, so have debates about the ethics and efficacy of harm reduction services. Through a review of existing literature and reflections on interviews from key informants at New York State Department of Health, grassroots harm reduction organizations, and a ‘mainstream’ addiction clinic, this thesis will critically examine the history of drug user stigmatization in the U.S. and how it has influenced the modern-day opioid epidemic. I argue that Foucault’s framework of biopower and Agamben’s theory of ‘bare life’ can shed light on the stigmatization and marginalization of minority communities and individuals, particularly in relation to the punitive measures of the “War on Drugs.” The long-standing stigmatization of drug users, particularly along racial and ethnic lines, and resulting drug policies have resulted in the inability of modern U.S. policy to reconcile existing drug laws with the modern ‘opioid crisis’ now that it is impacting white communities, as well as a failure to develop a mainstream harm reduction apparatus. I recommend various sociocultural and legislative changes needed to shift perception and policy to effectively address the ‘opioid crisis,’ including the necessity of incorporating hard reduction programs into the mainstream healthcare system, as well as the incorporation of racial impact assessments into the development of new drug policies.