Epidemiology is a core discipline generating evidence to inform and drive drug policy. In this essay, we speculate on what the future of drug epidemiology might become. We highlight for attention two areas shaping the future of drug epidemiology: nesting epidemiology within a 'syndemic' and 'relational' approach; and innovating in relation to causal inference in the face of complexity. We argue that shifts towards a more relational approach emphasise contingency, including in relation to how drugs might constitute benefit or harm. This leads us to speculate on a 'positive epidemiology'; one that is configured not merely in relation to harm but also in relation to the potential benefits of drugs in relation to well-being. In responding to the complex challenges of delineating contingent causalities, we emphasise the potential of carefully conducted observational study designs that go beyond statistical associations to test causal inference. We acknowledge that each of these developments we describe - a shift towards more relational approaches which emphasise contingent causation, and methodological innovations in relation to establishing causal inference - can be at odds with the other in how they imagine drug epidemiology futures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103378
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier B.V.


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