Breaking News
July 15, 2018 - Parents who had severe trauma, stresses in childhood more likely to have kids with behavioral health problems
July 15, 2018 - At colloquium, a range of views on value of predictive algorithms | News Center
July 15, 2018 - Pittcon invites oral and poster presentations for 2019 Technical Program
July 15, 2018 - Virtual reality could offer psychotherapy for fear of heights, study shows
July 15, 2018 - Retooled vaccine raises hopes as a lower-cost treatment for Type 1 diabetes
July 15, 2018 - Kolon TissueGene To Start US Phase III Clinical Trial For Invossa
July 15, 2018 - Study finds prenatal marijuana use can affect infant size, behavior
July 15, 2018 - Howard Chang named HHMI investigator | News Center
July 15, 2018 - Study shows tailored mental health services improve wellbeing of emerging adults
July 15, 2018 - A bright future might help teens steer clear of violence
July 15, 2018 - Stanford Medicine magazine explores the art, science of listening and hearing | News Center
July 15, 2018 - New study tracks how the brain turns simple sensory inputs into meaningful categories
July 15, 2018 - Deadlier subtype of metastatic prostate cancer found to be common than previously thought
July 15, 2018 - UZH scientists identify enzyme that controls cell division
July 15, 2018 - Unhealthy Food Behaviors May Signal Eating Disorder in Teen
July 15, 2018 - Study raises doubts on a previous theory of Parkinson’s disease
July 15, 2018 - Grant awarded to study whether stem cells can treat urinary incontinence | News Center
July 15, 2018 - Imaging techniques may help assess immune system recovery in HIV patients
July 15, 2018 - Machine-learning may aid in diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders
July 15, 2018 - ‘Skin Cancer, Take A Hike!’ program promotes sun safety and skin cancer awareness
July 15, 2018 - Blink Health announces lowest prices for generic prescriptions through Blue Eagle Health
July 15, 2018 - New drug strategy can alleviate multiple behavioral, cellular deficiencies in FXS mouse model
July 15, 2018 - Georgia State professor receives federal grant to study virus similar to Ebola virus
July 15, 2018 - Quitting Smoking? Even a Little Exercise Can Help You Stay Slim
July 15, 2018 - DBS treatment may slow the progression of Parkinson’s tremor in early-stage patients
July 15, 2018 - 5 Questions: Luby on virus with potential to cause global pandemic | News Center
July 15, 2018 - Corn loses its cancer-fighting phenolic acids when processed into cornflakes
July 15, 2018 - Study uncovers possible link between iron loading, alcohol intake and mortality
July 15, 2018 - Molecular insights of NagA enzyme could help combat TB
July 15, 2018 - The Facts on Tampons—and How to Use Them Safely
July 15, 2018 - Normalisation of ‘plus-size’ risks hidden danger of obesity, study finds
July 15, 2018 - $2.5 million award to support physician-scientist training | News Center
July 15, 2018 - Aeras announces publication of Phase 2 results of two TB vaccines
July 15, 2018 - Public to set research priorities in field of ethnic inequalities and severe mental illness
July 15, 2018 - Eisai and Biogen Announce Positive Topline Results of the Final Analysis for BAN2401 at 18 Months
July 15, 2018 - U.S. obesity rates rising again
July 15, 2018 - Millions could have incorrect statin, aspirin and blood pressure prescriptions | News Center
July 15, 2018 - Researchers identify factors associated with cell phone-related distracted driving in parents
July 15, 2018 - Bioethicists suggest ethical considerations for forensic use of genetic data
July 15, 2018 - Most clinical trial participants find benefits of sharing personal data outweigh risks, Stanford study finds | News Center
July 14, 2018 - Researchers solve protein puzzle that paves way for new cancer therapies
July 14, 2018 - Blood telomeres can help predict risk of disease worsening or death in COPD patients
July 14, 2018 - CDC: Nearly One-Third of Injury Deaths Occur at Home
July 14, 2018 - Injectable electronics offer powerful new tool in understanding how retinal cells work
July 14, 2018 - Human blood cells transformed into functional neurons | News Center
July 14, 2018 - Podcast: KHN’s ‘What the Health?’ ACA under fire. Again.
July 14, 2018 - Small device with motion sensors can predict older adults’ risk of falling
July 14, 2018 - Neurological Fallout From Ebola Infection Worse Than Thought
July 14, 2018 - Screening for impaired vision in older adults: New Canadian guideline
July 14, 2018 - Blood test for pregnant women can predict premature birth, Stanford-led study reports | News Center
July 14, 2018 - Study uncovers process that neutralizes tumor cells
July 14, 2018 - Four-protein biomarker blood test improves lung cancer risk assessment for smokers
July 14, 2018 - Researchers develop novel approach to bridge gap in cell-free systems
July 14, 2018 - Research reveals new gears in the circadian clock
July 14, 2018 - Researchers assess role of physician in preventing intimate partner violence perpetration
July 14, 2018 - Two diabetes medications don’t slow progression of type 2 diabetes in youth
July 14, 2018 - New clues to restoring fertility in women with disabling ovary disorder
July 14, 2018 - Compound in citrus oil could reduce dry mouth in head, neck cancer patients | News Center
July 14, 2018 - Streck ARM-D Kits detect more antibiotic resistance than comparable tests
July 14, 2018 - Study finds wide variations in follow-up imaging for women with non-metastatic breast cancer
July 14, 2018 - FDA expands its support for states to implement FSMA Produce Safety Rule
July 14, 2018 - CTI BioPharma Announces the Continuation without Modification of PAC203 Phase 2 Study of Pacritinib in Patients with Myelofibrosis Previously Treated with Ruxolitinib
July 14, 2018 - First-hand accounts of premature baby loss inspires new resource
July 14, 2018 - Study identifies cellular ‘death code’ | News Center
July 14, 2018 - Federal judge enters consent decree against Minnesota dairy farm for selling adulterated meat
July 14, 2018 - New web-based game motivates people to exercise more
July 14, 2018 - Calcium electrotransfer could be used to target cancer cells, study finds
July 14, 2018 - Researchers identify new region in mouse brain that affects appetite and body weight
July 14, 2018 - Repeated testing produces ‘practice effect’ that obscures true cognitive decline
July 14, 2018 - Amgen And UCB Resubmit Biologics License Application (BLA) For Evenity (romosozumab) To The US FDA
July 14, 2018 - New research detects brain cell that improves learning
July 14, 2018 - Spirit, Inspiring Change award winners announced | News Center
July 14, 2018 - Opioid patients face several barriers to treatment, study finds
July 14, 2018 - Black adults more likely to develop high blood pressure by age of 55
July 14, 2018 - Insurers fall short in catching and reporting Medicaid fraud, inspectors find
July 14, 2018 - Scientists identify structural and functional differences in human immune-surveillance protein
July 14, 2018 - FDA Approves TPOXX (tecovirimat) as the First Drug for the Treatment of Smallpox
July 14, 2018 - Visual perceptual skills are updated by process similar to memory reconsolidation, study finds
July 14, 2018 - Big Data in Precision Health focuses on how to make technology work for patient care | News Center
July 14, 2018 - New technique measures how well cancer drugs reach their targets
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