Breaking News
April 24, 2018 - Investigators highlight potential of exercise in addressing substance abuse in teens
April 24, 2018 - Study shows people might develop dementia later and live with it for a shorter period of time
April 24, 2018 - EMBL scientists develop new illumination method to manage neuropathic pain
April 24, 2018 - New compound could offer pain-relieving properties without risk of addiction
April 24, 2018 - New drug treatment could be promising therapeutic approach for millions with asthma
April 24, 2018 - Study provides guidance on using cannabis for treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression
April 24, 2018 - By Royal approval: Queen’s Award success for Elucigene
April 24, 2018 - The role of ‘extra’ DNA in cancer evolution and therapy resistance
April 24, 2018 - Researchers identify tools that caregivers could use to detect delirium in older adults
April 24, 2018 - What to Look Out For
April 24, 2018 - Drugs prescribed for newborns vary widely between NICUs, study finds
April 24, 2018 - FM4200 pressure-resistant mass flow meter from Sensirion
April 24, 2018 - Study links past experiences with bias and avoidance of doctors in women with higher BMI
April 24, 2018 - Role of extrachromosomal pieces of DNA in cancer development and treatment resistance
April 24, 2018 - Rehabilitation technique for stroke appears beneficial for multiple sclerosis patients
April 24, 2018 - Catalyst Pharmaceuticals Announces Submission of New Drug Application for Firdapse for Treatment of Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome
April 24, 2018 - Suicide and homicide rates show large racial disparities across US states
April 24, 2018 - NuProbe to commercialize Wyss Institute’s new technology to facilitate precision medicine
April 24, 2018 - Special series explores pasteurized donor human milk use for hospitalized infants
April 24, 2018 - Slight changes in patient’s position during radiotherapy may impact survival chances
April 24, 2018 - FDA Approves Tagrisso (osimertinib) as First-Line Treatment for EGFR-Mutated Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
April 24, 2018 - After knee replacement, play on
April 24, 2018 - Contact precautions do not limit spread of drug-resistant bacteria in ICUs
April 24, 2018 - Researchers discover genetic catalysts that accelerate evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria
April 24, 2018 - WPI researcher launches mobile app for assessing perinatal depression in women
April 24, 2018 - Researchers identify superior blood-based biomarker for assessing sports-related concussions
April 24, 2018 - Gene Therapy Found to Be Promising for β-Thalassemia
April 24, 2018 - Bariatric surgery can lead to changes in relationship status
April 24, 2018 - GPs must embrace digital technologies to make healthcare access easier for patients
April 24, 2018 - Novel stem cell therapy may transform current paradigms for treating heart failure patients
April 24, 2018 - Maternal depression during and after pregnancy linked to poorer child neurodevelopment
April 24, 2018 - Vitamin D and magnesium supplements provide right nutritional support to athletes
April 24, 2018 - Could a Tattoo Someday Spot Your Cancer?
April 24, 2018 - Throat reflexes differ in people with tetraplegia and sleep apnea
April 24, 2018 - Study shows no increased risk of breast cancer recurrence after DIEP flap reconstruction
April 24, 2018 - Nearly three-quarters of commonly used medical scopes tainted by bacteria
April 24, 2018 - Home-based treatment program offers robust and sustained relief for IBS patients
April 24, 2018 - New IntelliCyt Cy-Clone PLUS streamlines clone ranking and selection for cell line development
April 24, 2018 - Scientists examine how specific eating patterns could help fight cancer and obesity
April 24, 2018 - Study sheds new light on how bilinguals process language
April 24, 2018 - Probiotics can improve liver health, shows study
April 24, 2018 - Study may explain how chemoresistance evolves over time in some triple-negative breast cancers
April 24, 2018 - Role of midbrain in encoding identity errors
April 23, 2018 - Salamander study provides clues for treating spinal cord injuries
April 23, 2018 - Relaxation after work could give better night’s sleep
April 23, 2018 - Loneliness on its way to becoming Britain’s most lethal condition
April 23, 2018 - Low-cost blood test for multiple myeloma can deliver same diagnostic information as bone biopsy
April 23, 2018 - Metabolic differences may contribute to postpartum weight retention in black moms
April 23, 2018 - Time-Related Deployment Factors Predict Suicide Attempt Risk
April 23, 2018 - Are newborns ugly? Research says newborns rated ‘less cute’ than older babies
April 23, 2018 - Prenatal marijuana use linked to increased chance of low birth weights
April 23, 2018 - Researchers identify target gene in P. aeruginosa infection
April 23, 2018 - New studies related to causes of liver degradation and possible treatments
April 23, 2018 - Studies offer leads for new approaches to treat neurological problems
April 23, 2018 - Promising cell study may offer new opportunities for treating Parkinson’s disease
April 23, 2018 - Gene Therapy May Be Cure for Some With Rare Blood Disorder
April 23, 2018 - Obesity impacts liver health in kids as young as eight years old
April 23, 2018 - Frequent cannabis use by young people linked to small reductions in cognitive function
April 23, 2018 - Innovative research could lead to new ways to treat, prevent cancer
April 23, 2018 - Study uncovers possible source of gender differences in migraines
April 23, 2018 - Study proves usefulness of EDX testing in diagnosis, management of neuromuscular disorders
April 23, 2018 - Hacking ‘drug trafficking’ system could increase effectiveness of diabetes treatment
April 23, 2018 - Clinical trial to examine stem cell therapy for treatment, prevention of complications after traumatic injury
April 23, 2018 - Targeted radiotherapy found to be a good option for women with early breast cancer
April 23, 2018 - Eating fish could prevent Parkinson’s disease
April 23, 2018 - Philips showcases dedicated radiation oncology solutions at ESTRO 2018
April 23, 2018 - Key factor in development of Parkinson’s disease identified
April 23, 2018 - Higher consumption of fish linked to better neurological health
April 23, 2018 - Genevac announces HT Series 3 evaporators with Inert Gas Purge option
April 23, 2018 - Researchers clarify immune response for patients with breast cancer brain metastases
April 23, 2018 - Polypharmacy More Likely for Cancer Survivors
April 23, 2018 - Obesity is shifting cancer to young adults
April 23, 2018 - Scientists illustrate role of novel chromosomal mutations in fosfomycin resistance
April 23, 2018 - Newly developed drug compound may help treat Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
April 23, 2018 - Marriage Means ‘I Do’ for Skin Cancer Detection
April 23, 2018 - Freezing hunger-signaling nerve may help ignite weight loss
April 23, 2018 - Wear exoskeletons with caution for heavy lifting, researchers say
April 23, 2018 - Research offers new hope for healing wounds in patients with diabetes
April 23, 2018 - Shorter courses of radiotherapy found to be safe, effective for prostate cancer patients
April 23, 2018 - Scientists use CRISPR tool to make multiple edits to DNA samples ‘in vitro’
How labels like ‘addict’ and ‘junkie’ mask class contempt for drug users

How labels like ‘addict’ and ‘junkie’ mask class contempt for drug users

image_pdfDownload PDFimage_print
Credit: Shutterstock

Terms such as “drug user,” “addict” or the blatantly pejorative “junkie,” “dope head” or “stoner,” are loaded with moral bias. They suggest that people who consume psychoactive substances are mentally weak and dangerous – when in fact chemically altering the mind (the natural drive for “intoxication”) has long been a part of human biology and culture, most of which does not lead to any harm or crime.

A recent report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) – a group of drug policy reformers including political and business personalities such as Kofi Annan, Richard Branson and Nick Clegg – challenged the stigma surrounding widely held preconceptions about problematic substance use. Many prejudiced views are embedded in the everyday language we use around drugs.

Unpacking language and popular rhetoric might help us see that clean needle and syringe provision, opiate substitution treatment, drug consumption rooms and other interventions that mitigate the potential harms of drug use (“harm reduction” approaches) are more effective than futile, prohibition-focused wars on drugs.

The report was a much needed intervention for channelling the debate towards more rational ways of discussing drug problems, policy and programmes. In cases where people do develop drug-related problems, using neutral terms such as “a person who uses drugs” or “a person with drug dependence/problematic drug use/substance use disorder” can help dispel some of the myths and damaging stigma.

But tempting as it might be to hope that a cultural shift alone will ensure meaningful change, we needn’t forget that stigma is often rooted in unjust material conditions and power relations that societies must also address.

Classifying substances – and users

Much of the stigmatising language that equates drug use with moral failure is disseminated through the conservative parts of the mainstream media. However, as my recent research indicates, drug news reporting is not only a reflection of moral bias held against people who use drugs, but also of moral bias held against the lower classes.

I looked into over 800 news articles on new psychoactive substances (NPS), formerly known as “legal highs,” published by Romanian (two broadsheets and two tabloid dailies) and British (four tabloid dailies and a regional one) newspapers stretching from 2009 to 2017. Aiming to compare media stories in a postcommunist, relatively young democracy in Eastern Europe, and a more traditionally liberal society in the West, both cases revealed differences in the symbolic frames used to depict who the users were, and what drugs and the ways of taking them were understood to be.

NPS is quite a broad and fluid category, comprising existing and new, naturally-occurring and laboratory-processed classes of substances that could be used recreationally. But the associated harms were defined differently depending on the class connotations various NPS evoked.

In Romania, NPS were labelled “ethnobotanicals” or “ethnobotanical plants” – terms first used by head-shop entrepreneurs claiming to be selling for “research purposes,” widely picked up by journalists. When at first (2009-2011) this was perceived to mean synthetic cannabinoids (“Spice” products) used by otherwise “normal,” educated youths, media narratives mostly referred to the dangers these drugs posed to the user, as they gambled their future: drug-induced “self-harm,” “dependence” or “addiction.”

When later on (2012-2013), “ethnobotanicals” came to mean amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) injected by poor, unemployed, sometimes ethnic minority (Roma) users, the narrative focused more on their increased visibility within public spaces, violent and antisocial behaviour, along with rising HIV-infection rates recorded on the side of unsanitary injecting practices. This was more about a potential contagion risk posed to wider society.

In the UK, mephedrone (a synthetic cathinone used as a stimulant party drug by what the media deemed “carefree,” “innocent,” “aspiring” and generally unsuspecting teenagers) went mainstream around 2009-2012. Newspapers framed it in terms of a game of “Russian Roulette” that not only threatened users’ own lives but also wider society whose future they represented.

When later (2016-2017) media attention moved from middle-class youths and mephedrone on to synthetic cannabinoids or Spice turning rough sleepers into “zombies” and wreaking havoc among prison inmates, headlines pointed to the abject spectacle of disorder displayed by such groups – “pale, wasted people,” “defecating in the middle of the day,” “swaying about” in “dystopian” settings. “Like a horror movie,” as described in one report.

Drugs, injustice and austerity

The concepts of “drugs” and “addiction” obscure the reality of social distinctions and deep inequalities; young, middle-class use is depicted as problematic because it threatens its subjects and the continuity of the “valuable” (and dominant parts of) society they represent, and low or underclass use because of its potentially polluting and contagious nature.

Changing the language of drugs alone might do little to ease the brutally felt violence of austerity and cuts in unemployment or housing benefits. Many of the homeless “Spice zombies” ridiculed in the media will have been the victims of the close to 120 landlord evictions carried out on an average day in England and Wales, in 2015. Close to half of the ever rising numbers of homeless people in the country use drugs and alcohol to cope with mental health problems, while accommodation and support services have been reporting massive reductions in funding.

Focus on language but not political action also diverts attention from the impact of prohibitionist legislation such as the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, effectively a blanket ban on all NPS and head shops. This might have pushed products like Spice into street markets where they’re adulterated with other drugs and fuel overdoses and aggression, as academics and charity workers have warned.

In the absence of specific training and educational resources, health workers might just learn what is acceptable to say without changing long-held beliefs about patients who use drugs. But training is not a priority in an overstrained and understaffed NHS.

Aiming to change language alone without addressing the structural disadvantages and political issues that hide behind it might provide a narrative of action, but it could achieve next to nothing in improving the condition of the most vulnerable of people who use drugs. The widespread use of derogatory language shows it is naive to aim for fairer drug policies without aiming for fairer societies. One without the other is simply impossible.


Explore further:
The latest drug use figures and what they tell us about changing habits

Provided by:
The Conversation

Tagged with:

About author

Related Articles