From Drug Safety to Drug Security: A Contemporary Shift in the Policing of Health


The counterfeiting of medication is increasingly seen as a major threat to health, especially in the light of both the everyday reliance on and a broadening of world‐wide access to pharmaceuticals. Exaggerated or real, this threat has inaugurated, this article argues, a shift from a drug safety regime to a drug security regime that governs the flow of pharmaceuticals and brings together markets, police, and health actors in new ways. This entails a shift from soft disciplinary means aimed at incremental and continued inclusion of defaulters, to one of drastically sovereign measures of exclusion and banishment aimed at fake goods and the people associated with them, in the name of health. Through a multi‐sited ethnographic study, this article shows how such new drug security efforts play themselves out especially in (South) Africa, highlighting a modus operandi of spectacular performativity and of working through suspicion and association rather than factuality, producing value less so for those in need of health than for a petty security industry itself.