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Biomedicine in museums

The early history of drug abuse in Denmark

By November 23, 2010No Comments

We were so pleased to hear, a couple of days ago, that our own Jesper V. Kragh has just secured a two year external research grant for his project “The History of Drug Abuse in Denmark, 1870-1955” from the Danish Research Council for Culture and Communication.

Jesper distinguishes two different narratives about drug abuse. One is the well known story about psychotropic drugs being introduced in the late 1960s, “when groups of counterculture rebels began experimenting with heroin and other narcotics, but this experimental and recreational use of drugs turned into a social problem which still persists today”. Most drug abusers suffer from a lack of education, and are unemployed and homeless.

But, reminds Jesper us about, there is another, and more interesting narrative, which is unfamiliar to most people today, at least in Denmark (the British, of course, have the story about Sherlock Holmes as a reminder). Drug abuse was a problem already in the 1870s, when the use of morphine and other opiates became a problem for certain groups of Danes. But these people almost exclusively came from the upper or well educated middle classs.

So far, there has been no study of Danish history of drug abuse in the period from the late nineteenth century to the 1950s. In addition to exploring this unknown history of drug addiction, Jesper also wants to focus on aspects of drug abuse that have received only scant attention in the international historiography of addiction, viz., the psychiatric treatment. In doing this Jesper will draw on his extensive experience in using psychiatric hospital records as a major source.

So look out for publications from Jesper’s keyboard in the next couple of years — and maybe some intermittent blog posts as well.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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