Narcan as biomedical panic: The war on overdose and the harms of harm reduction

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As the opioid overdose crisis in the US persists, governments have coordinated with drug companies to propagate the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) as a ‘kinder/gentler’ state response, deriving from a supposedly progressive harm reduction ethos. Drawing on Derrida’s deconstruction of pharmakon, I show how Narcan is rendered paradoxical and terminal, diverting attention from the structural antecedents of opioid addiction and resources for drug treatment while reproducing corporeal suffering in those revived. I further highlight how Narcan is positioned in a wider array of regressive governing practices that legitimate the state’s punitive drug war and demonization of drug users. Narcan thus provides a useful opening between the state and contemporary biomedicine to theorize how harm reduction and public health unfurl in insidious and corrosive ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)132-152
Number of pages21
JournalTheoretical Criminology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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