Changing patterns of pharmaceutical practice in the United States

Nancy Vuckovic, Mark Nichter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


In the United States, contradictions related to medicine use abound in a social environment in which the pursuit of health has become a cultural project. In a marketplace where over half a million health products are available, choices at once seem to foster agency and encourage dependency on medical fixes. The aggressive marketing of medicines as indispensable commodities co-exits with rising concerns among the lay population about what is safe in the short- and long-term. In this paper we broadly consider medication-related practice in the United States as it is affected by social, cultural, and political-economic factors. We direct attention to changes in medicine use related to product proliferation, lowered thresholds of discomfort, the economics of health care, and a revival of the self-help ethic. We also consider the manner in which the demand for and use of medications reflect deeply embedded cultural ideals and emergent perceptions of need. We juxtapose two trends in American thinking about medicines: (1) the perception that 'more is better,' associated with cultural impatience with illness; and (2) a growing doubt about medicine necessity, safety, and efficacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1285-1302
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1997


  • Alternative medicine
  • Pharmaceutical practice
  • Popular health culture
  • Self-medication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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