The United States is in the grip of an epidemic. Opioid drugs...

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As I read the article of Scientific American below, I commented: Okay, the new drug will help make America great again. ;)

The question of this thread is about the usage of the word "drug", which always makes me hesitated about its correct use. Because "drug" has both the legal or illegal meanings at the same time. Legal: it refers to a medicine to treat people; illegal, it refers to addictive substance. When I say "the new drug will help make America great again," how do you know whether the drug is legal or illegal? Yes, you do see in the subtitle "a safer opioid". But "safer" doesn't tell whether it is legal or illegal. In my book, referring to an illegal drug would make my comment more sarcastic than humorous, while referring to a legal drug would make my comment sound more well-intended. I am not sure.

Relieving Pain without Causing Addiction
Memorial Sloan Kettering researchers are building a safer opioid
The United States is in the grip of an epidemic. Opioid drugs are powerful pain-relieving medications, but come with a high risk of addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans die each day from opioid overdoses, and that figure is rising.

-Scientific American

  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    In your sentence at the top, in isolation, you cannot tell whether it a legal pharmaceutical product, an illegal pharmaceutical product, a legal recreational substance or an illegal recreational substance. This is of course a problem common in English where sentences on their own can have multiple meanings.

    In the short extract you quote, it is clear (without being explicitly stated) that legal pharmaceutical products are being discussed.

    Note that there are illegal medicines and legal psychoactive drugs, also legal medicines can be addictive too.


    Senior Member
    English - US
    You're trying too hard to make a distinction that really doesn't matter. All it takes to make a legal drug illegal is to give it to a person other than the person it was prescribed to. Pharmaceutical morphine stolen from a drug store is just as illegal as heroin made by drug dealers.
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