Will There Be A Pill Panic?

CNN is reporting that “pills are becoming the new marijuana“. This follows on the heels of Al Gore Jr.’s arrest for improper possession of prescription drugs. My question is whether this will trigger a moral panic – a surge of public anxiety exceeding the real extent ot the social problem. (I’ve blogged previously about social panics here and here. I’ve written at greater length about moral panics here.) Will we begin to see a surge of stories documenting this “growing crisis”? We’ve seen as much with crack and methamphetamine, and there’s a long tradition of such panics over marijuana, opium, and other drugs, to say nothing of the ongoing panic over child abduction and sexual abuse. But there’s one big difference between prescription pills and all other types drugs: the pharmaceutical industry has high quality public relations management and easy media access. And many content providers – the very businesses that like to spread fear and anxiety – depend on Big Pharma advertising for substantial revenue.

I suspect that the PR staff of many of these big pharmaceutical companies (to say nothing of industry trade groups) are on high alert, watching this potential pill panic closely. And I have faith that they’ll manage this moment reasonably well. Remember that Oxycontin panic of a couple years back? Not so much anymore.

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3 Responses

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    I doubt there’ll be a panic of any significant duration if only because anecdotal evidence and reliance on cognitive heuristics convinces me that so many people are popping pills today that social anxiety can’t get off the ground. Not a few of my students are taking pills for some sort of psychological discomfort and my wife assures me that an alarming number of her co-workers at her hospital are taking prescription drugs to treat (modern?) mental ailments. So Big Pharma need not (micro) manage this moment, they’ve been in control for some time now.

  2. AcK says:

    Actually, the notion that pills might be “the new marijuana” suggests not panic, but an end-run around panic. Despite the hip new anti-pot ad campaigns, almost no one is genuinely upset about marijuana use, at least partly because “everyone’s doing it.” If so, characterizing pill abuse as “the new marijuana” is really just saying its “the new illegal drug that everyone’s doing and no one’s really upset about.” And that’s consistent, in a way, with both Dan’s idea that the drug companies might be able to insulate pill abuse from popular hysteria (maybe “its the new marijuana” is a sneaky sort of PR campaign), and Patrick’s idea that universal use cuts against hysteria.

  3. RCinProv says:

    Or, it might just cause an intellectual panic: a surge of anxiety among “moral panic” academics that exceeds the real extent of the so-called panic.