Women, harm reduction and history: Gender perspectives on the emergence of the 'British System' of drug control

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Taking Kohn's classic book Dope Girls as its starting point, this paper explores the particular place of women and gender issues in the emergence of the 'British System' of drug control in the early twentieth century. The 'British System' refers to the approach put in place in the 1920s in Britain, notably by the 1926 Rolleston Report. In essence, it involved the medically based prescription of opiates to addicts, often on a long-term basis. It is viewed by many as one of the beginnings of the general principle of harm reduction within drug policy. This paper will examine how female figures - chorus girls, actresses, night club girls, prostitutes - were central to British drugs discourse in the 1920s, with the representation of some individual women in particular, most famously the actress Billie Carleton, featuring very prominently. It will be argued that this gendering of drugs discourse can be best understood in the wider context of social change, namely the transition from liberalism to welfarism at the turn of the twentieth century. It is suggested that this historical analysis provides a radical new perspective on some fundamental issues for contemporary approaches to harm reduction for women, a perspective that has far-reaching implications and challenges some 'taken-for-granted' assumptions. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-105
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008