A naloxone anti-overdose kit is shown in Vancouver on Feb. 10, 2017. JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Skewed perceptions of drugs and people who use them negatively affect both health and health care by feeding into harmful prohibitionist policies and sometimes directly affecting clinical care, according to a new international report that aims to counter such prejudices.
The report, titled The World Drug PERCEPTION Problem, was released on Tuesday by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The 25-member delegation includes 12 former heads of states or government, a former secretary general of the United Nations and three Nobel Prize laureates.
Ruth Dreifuss, chair of the commission and former president of Switzerland, said the stigmatization of people who use drugs leads to discrimination and supports "regressive drug laws based on moral judgment."
"... advocates have cautioned against using language that stigmatizes drug use or portrays people who use drugs as morally flawed or inferior."
"Whether you think of someone and refer to them as a person who uses drugs or a 'junkie' makes a huge difference in how you and society will treat them," Ms. Dreifuss said in a statement. "The vicious cycle, which has been fuelled for decades, must be broken." The report comes as North America grapples with an overdose crisis brought on by illicit fentanyl. Canada's 2017 death toll from opioid-related overdoses is expected to surpass 4,000, with roughly a third of those deaths in British Columbia.
Amid media reports on the escalating crisis and impassioned debates about possible solutions, advocates have cautioned against using language that stigmatizes drug use or portrays people who use drugs as morally flawed or inferior. Rather, language should be "people-first" and reflect the medical nature of substance use. "Person with a substance use disorder" should be used over "addict" or "junkie" for example and "supervised consumption site" over "fix site" or "shooting gallery."
(The American Press Stylebook, a grammar and usage guide for journalists in the United States, last year issued an update recommending against using words such as alcoholic, addict, user and abuser unless they are in quotations. Instead, the new guide recommends phrasing such as "he was addicted," or "people with alcoholism.")
The report noted that stigmatization can have a direct impact on clinical care, citing a U.S. study in which mental-health clinicians were given identical case studies about people in court-ordered drug-treatment programs.