'You junkie, you addict' - How stigma can prevent drug users getting the help they need

Depression is often the root cause of drug addiction and abuse does not help.

Persuasion Republic / Vimeo

A NEW CAMPAIGN has been launched that seeks to fight the stigma that affects drug users.

Activists from the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign have pointed out the this stigma can actually prevent addicts from seeking treatment.

The campaign includes a video featuring the words of drug users who explain how stigma can prevent them moving on with the lives.

The group is also pushing for the decriminalisation of drug use, saying that labeling addicted drug users as criminals is counter-productive given the government’s policy of treating addiction as a health issue.

Co-ordinator with Citywide Ann Quigley explains that stigma within society can also have an impact on whether drug addiction treatment actually works.

“There’s a direct connection with depression and anxiety and those kind of mental health issues which are probably linked to drug use anyway.”

A key part of the programme they’re on is about building up their sense of esteem, value and identity. A sense that you can achieve something, so it’s worth your while trying to deal with the drugs issue.

“But if you’re going back into society and you’re meeting an attitude that kind of says to you ‘actually no, you’re worthless’, that just has the opposite effect on people,” she says.

We do have this blame thing. We don’t have it with people who develop an alcohol problem. You’d hear people saying with people who use drugs ‘well they shouldn’t have started it, if they’d never taken them they wouldn’t have a problem’. Well don’t use that attitude with alcohol.

Citywide’s campaign focuses on a number of specific societal actions that would help drug users that face addition. Chief among them is to reduce the prevalence of demeaning language that drug users face.

“We have highlighted the use of the word ‘junkie’, we kind of have to because that is the most common word,” Quigley says.

And it’s not a word that’s used on the street, you hear people using it on national radio, it’s still kind of a word that, unlike other words in out language, it’s still seen as acceptable.

During the lifetime of the previous government, an Oireachtas committee ‘strongly recommended’ that the possession of a small amount of illegal drugs be decriminalised

Minister for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne TD was present at today’s Citywide campaign launch and her department is looking into that and other alternative approaches to drugs policy.

Quigley says that such a change would remove the current contradictory approach: “The government policy is treat addiction as a health issue, not a crime. So again it’s just inconsistent then to say if someone has drugs in their possession for their personal use we criminalise that.”

Read: Volume of drug seizures in Irish prisons soars by 42%, as over 1,000 recorded last year >

Read: Data retrieved from Chilean drug lord’s phones led to arrest of Irish men in Amsterdam >

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