This article takes up the issue of substance use disorder, arguing that the discourses surrounding the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic and the present-day opioid epidemic rely on similarly racialized rhetoric, and examining the implications regarding pain and suffering, safety and employment of establishing substance use disorder as a (white) disability and not a (black) criminal liability as it was understood throughout the Reagan-Bushera War on Drugs. These racially disparate characterizations of substance use disorder help shape and in turn are perpetuated by the respective technologies of rehabilitation and criminalization developed in response. This article takes the debate surrounding the categorization of substance use disorder as a prominent case study in how state and civil society understand and relate to an emergent disability through the deployment of law and technology.

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