Study abroad in Edinburgh

Course finder

Semester 1

Drug Policy and the Public Good (SHSS10011)


Health in Social Science





Normal Year Taken


Delivery Session Year



Visiting students should have passed at least 2 University social science courses (such as Health Studies, Sociology, Politics, Social Policy, Social Anthropology, Psychology, etc) at grade B or above; we will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum academic entry requirements does NOT guarantee admission. **Please note that 3rd year Health courses have extremely limited spaces available, and are very popular, so students cannot be guaranteed a space in any 3rd year Health course.** These enrolments are managed strictly by the Visiting Student Office, in line with the quotas allocated by the department, and all enquiries to enrol in these courses must be made through the CAHSS Visiting Student Office. It is not appropriate for students to contact the Health in Social Science department directly to request additional spaces.

Course Summary

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the concept of drug policy, explore how it is enacted both internationally and nationally, and invites critical reflection on policy responses to drug use. It combines perspectives drawn from health studies, law, criminology, social policy, sociology, public health and public policy to explore the interaction between drug use and society, and the role that risk and harm play in the development of a public good approach to drug use.

Course Description

This course brings together a range of academic disciplines and literature to give students a broad understanding of drug policy, both international and national. While drug use and policy may be discussed as part of other courses, this is the only course that focuses specifically on drug policy, and the impact it has on society today. Drug policy is becoming increasingly visible as an important component of both health and legal policy. Around the world there are shifts which see drug policy moving to a health matter, and the contradictions that can have in the development and delivery of criminal justice and public health frameworks. The aim of the course will be to explore both criminal justice and public health approaches to drug policy, and will introduce students to the broader concept of a 'public good' approach. This course will be divided into three blocks: 1. Drug use and Society: this block will look at why people use drugs, and explore the interaction between risk, harm, health and morality in the development of drug policy. This section will have a sociological and health based focus. 2. Drug policy frameworks: this set of lectures will introduce students to international and national drug policy frameworks, including regulations and legislation on the production, trafficking, supply, possession and use of illicit substances, and recent moves towards decriminalization and legalization of drugs. This section will have a legal and public policy focus. 3. Public good approaches: this block will look at public good approaches to drug use, including how this interacts with both public health and criminal justice approaches to drug use. Within this students will explore new and innovative uses for illicit drugs in the treatment of depression, trauma and addiction. This section will have a social policy, legal and health based focus. Students will be expected to attend a weekly lecture and 1 tutorial per week, but there will be a range of online activities to develop and complete in addition to this. Drug use has become an important part of media and entertainment, and we will be looking at films, documentaries and online content to explore the narratives driving drug policy, and develop deeper understandings of how these narratives impact individuals and society. The assessments will provide several ways in which students can demonstrate their learning outcomes. With the policy brief students will show that they understand the topic, and will be supported to develop a policy brief that highlights the tensions between public health and criminal justice approaches to drug use. The group presentation will provide students with the ability to work as a team, discuss how 'wicked problems' are managed in society, and help build confidence in presenting on complex and stigmatized topics.

Assessment Information

Written Exam 0%, Coursework 100%, Practical Exam 0%

view the timetable and further details for this course


All course information obtained from this visiting student course finder should be regarded as provisional. We cannot guarantee that places will be available for any particular course. For more information, please see the visiting student disclaimer:

Visiting student disclaimer