A social history of opioids’ crimedical cycle

Jerel M. Ezell, Alex Rains, Babatunde Patrick Ajayi, Kyle Miller, Erin Augustine, Dawn Goddard-Eckrich, Elizabeth Kinnard, Michelle Lofwall

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


Historically, public and political discourse around people who nonmedically use opioids has largely been rendered via a deficits-oriented lens, presenting this population as weak, disinterested, and deviant,and thus undesirable and ill-positioned for wellness and communal integration. These narratives, and subsequent policies used to engage people who use opioids, are intermittently formed and disrupted by geopolitical changes, as public and institutional attitudes, often driven by racial and class-related considerations, shift. As part of what we term the crimedical cycle, a population’s behaviors fluctuate between periods of medicalization and criminalization. Strengths-based theory, an offshoot of ‘positive psychology’ that helps contextualize the crimedical cycle, emphasizes the value of recognizing and affirming the inherent and learned skills that individuals possess and can leverage toward self-actualization. A strengths-based orientation and approach to clinical praxis is particularly critical in improving the health and well-being of populations, namely those who nonmedically use opioids, that are highly criminalized and disenfranchized through social and public policy. However, strengths-based theory is underdeveloped in addiction medicine, despite it having deep roots in the treatment field. This ongoing omission engenders narratives around opioid use that congeal to propel the stigmatization, over-policing, economic marginalization, and poor health of those who use opioids. This article discusses the historical trajectory of views and attitudes on opioid use and presents a model that advances strengths-based approaches to engaging this population.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAddiction Research and Theory
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Criminalization
  • medicalization
  • opioid use
  • strengths-based

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'A social history of opioids’ crimedical cycle'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this