Most laws are created to shape social behavior and drug laws are no different.
Brock Prof. Dan Malleck wants to know what factors influenced the creation of restrictive drug policy in Canada.
His research project “Baneful influences: The origin of drug control in Canada, 1800-1911,” recently received an Insight Grant worth $79,470 over three years from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to help him find out.
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 90s, Malleck explored the origins of drug laws in the 19th century. His research at the time focused on the development first of provincial then federal drug restriction, but only in Eastern Canada.
With the grant, he can now look at all off Canada to identify the country’s complex regionalism.
“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 (the laws were created), 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 of Canadian pharmacies from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, Malleck hopes to gain insight into the prescribing patterns of doctors and understand how policy change affected them and their patients.
“A law like the Opium Act of 1908 may have caused doctors to change the type of drugs they prescribed” Malleck explains. “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 shed light on the 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.