Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The global spread and use of opioids have impacted human life in unimaginable ways. The molecules have created new kinds of treatments, addictions, medical practices, markets, laws and institutions to deal with their ab/use. Emergent courts, such as mental health, Veteran’s, and drug treatment (DTC), are one institutional outcome of narcotics. These are spaces where words/categories have deep meanings with power-laden consequences for enrollees. Working from ethnographic and teaching projects with DTCs, a preliminary examination/ethnography is presented, where staffings take place on a weekly basis, followed by courtroom proceedings. DTC represents a hybrid space where two systems collide - the criminal justice and addiction/recovery - and must work in concert to care/manage clients with complex physical/mental needs. Anthropology can function in two ways within this context: Critiquing and thickening the terms of engagement and translating interprofessionally, bridging gaps between professionals and systems, that use a shared language (e.g., user, recovery, pain, narcotic, referral, trauma, defendant, etc.) that often is flat and dogmatic. Gaps emerge where the same terms circulating in different systems become incommensurable, working against the interests of the clients/patients/users. Moreover, there is parallel, calculating system at work, with facts and words on paper, or electronically, that must care for, and assess a file-self - a paper-person, that moves through bureaucratic systems towards a resolution. Both people and paper-persons are phased up and out of the court and into a “phase five” of life: everyday reality, off paper, and possibly off drugs.