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Module Specifications

Archived Version 2021 - 2022

Module Title Drugs in Society
Module Code NS141
School 38

Online Module Resources

Module Co-ordinatorDr Mark PhilbinOffice NumberH245b
NFQ level 8 Credit Rating 5
Pre-requisite None
Co-requisite None
Compatibles None
Incompatibles None

In contemporary societies, drug use is variously a pervasive part of everyday life, a symbol of deviance, an aspect of one's identity, a pleasurable activity, a sociable activity, a medical necessity, a means of enhancement, a source of harm, a commercial opportunity and a focus for dispute. Using particular songs from popular music as a starting point, we explore all these aspects of drug use and deal with some fundamental questions about human nature, freedom, responsibility and risk-taking.

Learning Outcomes

1. Explore arguments about normalisation and normality in relation to both recreational drug use and the use of medications.
2. Discuss the value of a 'rational approach' to the evaluation of drug-related harms
3. Examine the uses of prohibition in the field of drugs policy
4. Explore libertarian arguments in favour of drug legalisation
5. Examine the case for harm reduction and the decriminalisation of illicit drug use
6. Explore the relations between drug use and pleasure
7. Consider the various relations between freedom, responsibility and drug use
8. Examine arguments about the uses of medication and how this relates to population health
9. Explore the ethics of drug-assisted human enhancement.
10. Reflect upon their encounters with drug-related issues that arise within their everyday lives

Workload Full-time hours per semester
Type Hours Description
Seminars22Classroom based seminars focused upon particular songs
Directed learning11Watching and considering videos that link to popular songs
Online activity11Weekly Loop quiz
Directed learning11Directed reading
Assignment Completion30Preparation of an essay
Independent Study40For general reading and use of Loop
Total Workload: 125

All module information is indicative and subject to change. For further information,students are advised to refer to the University's Marks and Standards and Programme Specific Regulations at: http://www.dcu.ie/registry/examinations/index.shtml

Indicative Content and Learning Activities

'Everyone's At It': Introduction to the module
In her song 'Everyone's At It', Lily Allen suggests that drug use is widespread and this should be acknowledged as a first step in dealing with society's drug-related problems. This serves as a useful basis for introducing the module and the idea that drug use is a relevant issue across society and societies. We also explore the value of using popular songs as a way of examining drug-related issues.

'How Could You Leave Us?': Death, drugs and children
'How Could You Leave Us?' is a song by NF and it is inspired by the death of his own mother through a drugs overdose. This is a prompt for us to examine the links between drug use and premature death, the incidence of death by self-poisoning, and various ways that children can be implicated in drug use.

'White Lines (Don't Do It)': Drug prohibition considered
'White Lines (Don't Do It)' is a hip-hop song by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Melin in which the dangers of cocaine use are dramatically highlighted and listeners are cautioned to refrain from such use. At the societal level, one established way of seeking to prevent drug-related harms is through prohibition policies although it is commonly claimed that such policies are ineffective and counterproductive. We deal cautiously with these claims and discuss some more nuanced views of the uses of prohibition. Particular attention is given to Wayne Hall and his analysis of the history of American policies on alcohol prohibition as well as his argument in favour of "partial prohibitions".

'19': Drugs and war
'19' is a song by Paul Hardcastle and the title refers to the average age of American servicemen in Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, drug use was part of the everyday lives of many such servicemen and this was part of what prompted President Richard Nixon to declare a "war on drugs" in 1971. This prompts us to consider the work of Peter Andreas on the history of relations between drugs and war which, as well as the so-called war "on" drugs, has included wars "while on" drugs, wars "for" drugs, wars "through" drugs and "drugs after war".

'Ain't Got No, I Got Life': Body ownership and an argument for a free market in drugs
In 'Ain't Got No, I Got Life', Nina Simone sings about an essential freedom that comes with ownership of one's own body. Taking this as a starting point, we explore the work of Thomas Szasz who associates drug prohibition with the denial of the right of body self-ownership and argues that respect for such a right necessitates a free market in drugs.

'Nobody's Fault But Mine': Personal responsibility and problem drug use
Returning to Nina Simone, 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' is a song about responsibility for one's own decisions and mistakes. This is a prompt for us to consider a further element in Thomas Szasz's argument about drug legalisation and his claim that ownership of one's own body necessarily means that one is wholly responsible for the consequences of one's own bodily decisions and for dealing with such consequences. For Szasz, drug use is a matter of choice and habit and dealing with drug-related problems is a matter of motivation and will. We critically judge this claim from an ethical standpoint and by reference to a life history (written by Merrill Singer) of a street drug user.

'Freedom Of Choice': Reasoned judgement and drug use
'Freedom of Choice' by Perfect Circle is a song which emphasises the capacity of individuals to make their own decisions about their lives but also acknowledges the burdens of choice and the temptation to flee such burdens. This prompts us to consider the work of David Nutt who advocates a "rational" approach to risks associated with drug use and thinking for oneself about such risks in a way that is informed by evidence and reasoning.

'Drug Ballad': Ideas about the power of drugs
In 'Drug Ballad', Eminem refers to 'the hold' exerted by drugs and the idea that they exert a greater power over individuals than can be summoned by one's will or preference. We explore this idea with particular reference to Alcoholics Anonymous and to counter-arguments which de-emphasise the chemistry of addiction in favour of sociological or motivational accounts.

'Rehab': Harm reduction and decriminalisation considered
In 'Rehab', Amy Winehouse sings about her resistance to others who want to "make her" enter residential drugs treatment. This raises questions about the limitations of prohibitions and measures that are imposed upon drug users. Harm reduction approaches are often regarded as an alternative to such impositions and as a way to pragmatically address drug-related harms. We explore the initial emergence of harm-reduction as an oppositional kind of service provision, the subsequent accommodation of harm-reduction practices into mainstream provision, an expansive notion of harm-reduction which takes account of stigmatisation, and policies of drug decriminalisation that reflect a harm-reduction logic.

'Legalize It': Arguments for the legalisation of cannabis use
'Legalize It' is a reggae song from 1976 by Peter Tosh and involves claims about the benefits and extent of cannabis use as well as a call for its legalisation. Prompted by this song, we examine the use of cannabis in Rastafarian religious practice, as medicine and as a so-called recreational drug. We consider evidence about the harms and benefits of cannabis as well as policy options for its legalisation.

'Sorted for E's and Whizz': Ecstasy, amphetamines and music
'Sorted for E's and Whizz' is a 1995 song by Pulp and references the use of ecstasy and amphetamines in contexts of music and dance. We explore the history of the relations between these drugs and music/dance as well as some of their wider uses.

'Heroin': The history and uses of heroin
'Heroin' is a song from 1967 by The Velvet Underground and we use this as a basis to explore the history of heroin, how it is produced, efforts to control and prevent its use, how people live with heroin, its implications for health and crime, ideas about treatment and recovery.

'White Rabbit': Psychedelics and altered perception
'White Rabbit' is a 1967 song by Jefferson Airplane and relates to the effects of psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. This prompts us to review the history of psychedelic drug use and claims about the potential of such drugs to alter and enrich one's experience of the world.

'Cigarettes and Coffee': Drugs in everyday life, tobacco harms and the ethics of coffee consumption.
'Cigarettes and Coffee' is a 1966 song by Otis Redding. In the song, he evokes a scene in which smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee are part of a moment of intimacy that he wants to extend. Drawing on this scene, we explore some ways in which drugs can pervade everyday life as well as the harms associated with tobacco, the activities of the tobacco industry and the ethics of coffee consumption.

'I Took A Pill in Ibiza': Drug use, hyper-consumption and unfreedom
'I Took A Pill in Ibiza' is a song by Mike Posner which is reflective in tone and links drug use to conspicuous consumption. Relating to this song, we explore the work of Daniel Briggs and his research focused on British young people on holiday in San Antonio, Ibiza. By reference to Briggs, we consider the idea of drug hyper-consumption as an escape from the banalities and oppressiveness of everyday life, as associated with the values of consumerist and celebrity culture, and as an apparent freedom that serves to hide unfreedom.

'Xanny': Questioning drug-related pleasure and a case for abstinence
In 'Xanny', Billie Eilish sings of her perplexity to do with what is supposed to be pleasurable about drug use and suggests she is better off for taking no recreational drugs. On this basis, we consider questions of what is meant by pleasure in the context of drug use, the extent to which such pleasure is socially learned and reproduced, and the case that can be made for drug abstinence.

'Night of the Living Baseheads': Drug use and communal solidarity
'Night of the Living Baseheads' is a 1988 song by Public Enemy and it is about the sale and use of crack cocaine. They locate crack cocaine within a context of racial oppression and depict its sale by African Americans as a betrayal of their own disadvantaged communities. Examining this argument, we explore the extent to which decisions about drug use and sale should reflect obligations to others and communal solidarity.

'Swimming Pools (Drank)': The possibility of 'responsible drinking'
In 'Swimming Pools (Drank)', Kendrick Lamarr sings of how one can be admonished for limiting and pacing one's alcohol intake as well as encouraged to binge drink. This raises the idea of 'responsible drinking' and so we explore the distinction that is commonly drawn between hazardous and responsible drinking as well as some ways in which this distinction is fundamentally problematic.

'Pass the Courvoisier Part II': Marketing and 'alcogenic systems'
'Pass the Courvoisier Part II' is a 2002 rap song by Busta Rhymes which also features P. Diddy and Pharrell Williams. This song is often credited with quickly boosting the sales of Courvoisier (a French cognac) by 30% and a continuing upward export trajectory to the United States as well as a transformation in its image from an old-fashioned brand to one that is contemporary and 'cool'. This raises some interesting questions for us to consider about how alcohol markets operate and serve to reproduce 'alcogenic' systems.

'Drug dealer': Prescription drugs and the pharmaceutical industry
'Drug Dealer' is a hip-hop song by Macklemore (also featuring Ariana DeBoo) which is partly inspired by his past addiction to prescribed opioids. In the song, he protests against the harms associated with prescription drugs as well as the role of doctors and the pharmaceutical industry in perpetrating such harms and pursuing profit at the expense of people's lives. Examining these points, we consider evidence about the harms to health caused by the uses of prescription drugs and the place of the pharmaceutical industry in contemporary societies. We explore the ways in which pharmaceutical companies are an integral part of growth-oriented economics and how they operate with a commercial logic. Taking the work of Joseph Dumit, we examine the almost limitless possibilities for pharmaceutical expansion associated with a focus on risks that are framed as "prediseases" or diseases in themselves and that are an increasing focus for treatment.

'Antidepressants Are So Not A Big Deal': Accounting for antidepressant use
'Antidepressants Are So Not A Big Deal' is a song from the cast of 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' in which antidepressant use is breezily yet ironically depicted as a widespread social norm. In examining this song, we consider evidence about the rising prevalence of antidepressant use and some optimistic claims about their effectiveness, especially the work of Peter Kramer who viewed Prozac as a decisive step in the direction of a science of human enhancement.

'Anti-D': Critical perspectives on antidepressant use
'Anti-D' is a song by The Wombats with references to negative experiences of antidepressant use. In this vein, and especially by reference to the work of Robert Whitaker, we explore critical arguments about the effectiveness of antidepressants, harms associated with antidepressant use, and ideas about depression as a brain disorder. We also explore the work of David Karp and his research on the relationships between desperation, identity and antidepressant use.

'Never Let Me Down Again': Drugs and human enhancement
'Never Let Me Down Again' is a song by Depeche Mode and it is often interpreted as a tribute to Ecstasy. There is a suggestion that the use of this drug can enhance one's experiences and "take us to where we want to go". This raises a more general question about the legitimacy of using drugs to enhance oneself and disputes over this question relating to sport, cognitive function, and selfhood. We examine these disputes and take particular account of the work of Julian Savalescu.

Assessment Breakdown
Continuous Assessment100% Examination Weight0%
Course Work Breakdown
TypeDescription% of totalAssessment Date
Reassessment Requirement
Resit arrangements are explained by the following categories;
1 = A resit is available for all components of the module
2 = No resit is available for 100% continuous assessment module
3 = No resit is available for the continuous assessment component
Indicative Reading List

  • Comiskey, C.: 2020, Addiction Debates: Hot topics from policy to practice, Sage, Los Angeles,
  • Dumit, J.: 2012, Drugs for Life: How pharmaceutical companies define our health, Duke University Press, Durham,
  • Gage, S.: 2020, Say Why to Drugs: Everything you need to know about the drugs we take and why we get high, Hodder & Stoughton, London,
  • Nutt, D.: 2012, Drugs- Without the Hot Air: Minimizing the harms of legal and illegal drugs, UIT Cambridge, Cambridge,
  • Nutt, D. J.: 2020, Drink? The new science of alcohol, Yellow Kite, London,
  • Babor, T: 2010, Alcohol: No ordinary commodity, Oxford University Press, Oxford,
  • Bean, P.: 2010, Legalising Drugs: Debates and dilemmas, Policy Press, Bristol,
  • Bogazianos, D. A.: 2012, 5 Grams: Crack cocaine, rap music, and the war on drugs, New York University Press, New York,
  • Brandt, A.M.: 2007, The Cigarette Century: The rise, fall, and deadly persistence of the product that defined America, Basic Books, New York,
  • Briggs, D.: 2013, Deviance and Risk on Holiday: An ethnography of British tourists in Ibiza, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke,
  • Butler, S., Elmeland, K., Nichols, J., and Thorn, B.: 2017, Alcohol, Power and Public Health: A comparative study of alcohol policy, Routledge, London,
  • Carnwath, T. & Smith, I.: 2002, Heroin Century, Routledge, London,
  • Goldacre, B.: 2013, Bad Pharma: How medicine is broken, and how we can fix it, Fourth Estate, London,
  • Healy, D.: 2004, Let Them Eat Prozac, New York University Press, New York,
  • Healy, D.: 2012, Pharmageddon, University of California, Berkeley,
  • Kamieński, L.: 2017, Shooting Up: A history of drugs in warfare, Hurst and Company, London,
  • Karp, D.A.: 2006, Is It Me or My Meds?, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.,
  • Kramer, P: 1997, Listening to Prozac, Penguin, New York,
  • McKeganey, N.P.: 2011, Controversies in Drugs Policy and Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills,
  • Peele, S. & Grant, M.: 2014, Alcohol and Pleasure: A health perspective, Routledge, London,
  • Pilcher, T: 2008, e: The Incredibly Strange History of Ecstasy, Elephant Book Company, London,
  • Pollan, M.: 2019, How To Change Your Mind: The new science of psychedelics, Penguin,
  • Pryce, S.: 2012, Fixing Drugs: The politics of drugs prohibition, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke,
  • Singer, M.: 2006, The Face of Social Suffering: The life history of a street drug addict, Waveland Press, Long Grove,
  • Szasz, T.: 1996, Our Right to Drugs, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse,
  • Whitaker, R.: 2010, Anatomy of an Epidemic, Crown, New York,
  • Wilson, A.: 2007, Northern Soul: Music, drugs and sub-cultural identity, Willan, Cullompton,
  • World Health Organization: 2012, WHO global report: mortality attributable to tobacco, WHO,
  • World Health Organization: 2018, Global status report on alcohol and health, WHO,
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