Drugs and Society - Vol. 1

Drugs and Society - Vol. 1

Drugs and Society - Vol. 1

Drugs and Society - Vol. 1

Excerpt

Drugs are everywhere; they permeate our lives. Drug use has occurred in every society throughout the world, from ancient times to today. Think about the last time you became aware of a specific drug or type of drug use. Perhaps a family member took an aspirin for a headache or a prescription medication for asthma, diabetes, or a heart condition. Maybe you saw an advertisement on television or in a magazine for a drug product, or a news story about college students binge drinking or about an epidemic of heroin use in a nearby city. Possibly you were with a friend who was smoking a cigarette or drinking coffee.

This encyclopedia, Drugs and Society, was developed for students, and its purpose is to provide authoritative information on all aspects of legal and illegal drugs of abuse. Students will find information in the various entries on how drugs work in the human body to produce effects. They will find information on the predisposing, enabling, and reinforcing factors that lead to experimental and continual drug use, and on behaviors involving drugs that lead to adverse reactions and dangerous outcomes such as overdoses and addictions. Readers also will find topics that cover the bigger picture of drug use in society, including legal, political, cultural, and other social issues.

What does the word drug mean? The ancient Greeks' word for drug was [pharmakon,] and it had three different but related meanings: remedy, poison, and magical charm. These three meanings apply to most substances called drugs. A specific drug can be a remedy, used to treat a symptom or disease; a poison, misused in some way to cause harmful effects; and a magical charm, when it is used in the belief that it is a [wonder drug] that will cure any illness and solve all of life's problems. The scientific definition of a drug is any substance, other than food, that by its chemical or physical nature alters the structure or function of a living organism, resulting in physiological or behavioral changes or both.

The meaning of the word drug, however, often varies with the context in which it is used. For instance, the scientific definition of drug can include substances that are agricultural and industrial chemicals but are not intended for use by humans, because if humans were exposed to these substances, extremely harmful effects would occur. Substances used to treat symptoms and diseases in humans or to prevent health problems are considered drugs by almost everyone. There are drugs that require a prescription from a doctor before a patient can get them from a pharmacist; these include antibiotics and tranquilizers. There are other drugs that people can get without a prescription from a pharmacy or supermarket, such as antacids, some allergy medications, and cough and cold remedies. The distinction between prescription and nonprescription drugs is based on laws and regulations passed as recently as the 1950s. Laws are one way of classifying different drugs. The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 created categories of drugs based on their abuse potential and value as medicines. Another way of classifying individual drugs is based on their psychoactive effects, for example, by classifying them as narcotics, stimulants, sedatives or depressants, and hallucinogens.

There are other substances that people use to treat health problems, such as herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, and vitamins. Many people, especially most health professionals, consider these substances to be drugs, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not legally define these substances as drugs; they are defined as nutritional supplements or foods. Most consumers do not think of their multivitamin pill or herbal tea as a drug, but the substances in the pill or tea can produce changes in the human body. In fact, the scientific definition of drug excludes foods like salt, sugar, and fruits and vegetables that contain vitamins. But all of these substances can produce changes in the human body. So what is meant by the word drug can vary, depending upon how it is used by particular people and the situations in which they use the term. In Drugs and Society, the focus is on drugs of abuse, whether they are legal or illegal.

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