Stigma: A burden we all share

I recently had the opportunity to guest write an article regarding stigma in the media for the fantastic Injecting Advice website.  It got me thinking about the nature of stigma experienced by drug users.  Upon reflection I began to realise that it is not just current drug users who experience stigma in our communities.  People who have chosen to abstain from often socially accepted drugs such alcohol are also often subject to ridicule, scorn or just plain invasive questions about why they have chosen to abstain.  Families of drug users are also subjected to stigma and often experience a deep sense of shame and isolation.  This is often compounded by public perceptions reinforced by drug prevention initiatives that place the burden of substance use on families.

In a public address in 2001, the then Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard stated:

“Now this part of the program seeks quite unashamedly to appeal to the families of Australia to share the burden, to play a part. It encourages them to talk to their children. That’s not always easy. All of us as parents encounter occasions when it’s difficult to broach subjects with our children. None of us is a genius at that. And any Australian parent who feels oh this is a bit difficult my message to them is you are not alone.  There are millions of other Australian parents who feel an equal sense of difficulty. As a parent myself I don’t claim any particular expertise. All of us bring to our parental responsibilities, a sense of commitment, a love of our children, and a sense of responsibility about their future.”

(Source: Transcript of the (now former) Prime Minister the HON John Howard MP Address at launch of National Illicit Drugs Campaign, Ermington Community Centre, Sydney 25th March 2001)

Of course the inference is that parents of children (and adults) who use drugs failed in there parental responsibilities, failed in their sense of commitment to their children, failed to love their children adequately.  No wonder parents of people who use drugs feel a sense of shame and isolation!

Harm reduction workers too are stigmatised by association.  How many of us have been ranted at in social situations when disclosing what we do for work?  How many of us have lied in social situations about what we do for a living to avoid yet another awkward or tiresome conversation about the nature of our work?  (See 3 Barbecue tips for Harm Reduction Workers to read some more about those awkward situations).

Stigma then, is an important consideration then, not only in the work we do directly with drug users, but also in our personal lives.

I have collected a number of useful resources regarding stigma that maybe useful to harm reduction workers, families and drug users.  Use them in good health.

Papers, Reports and Blogs about Stigma

U.K. Drug Commission Report on Stigma The U.K. Drug Commission have collated a number of reports regarding alcohol and other drugs and stigma.

Limit of Shunt The Limit of Shunt is a counterweight to the media reporting on drugs that too often contributes to the stigma against people who use drugs and the widespread misunderstanding of the drugs issue.

The Australian Heroin Diaries A blog that challenges the misconceptions and stereotypes applied to heroin users.

Drug Users Advocates

AIVL The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) is the national peak organisation representing the state and territory drug user organisations and issues of national significance for people who use or have used illicit drugs.

INPUD INPUD is a global network that seeks to represent people who use drugs in international agencies such as the United Nations and with those undertaking international development work. INPUD believe that people who use drugs should be meaningfully represented in decision-making processes that affect drug users lives.

Media Reporting

DrugScope Media Guide A resource for jounalists reporting on Alcohol and other drugs issues.

Lets Remove the J word from Journalism A collection of news articles that stigmatise drug users.

Assistance for Families

Family Drug Help A non judgemental service for the family members of drug users in Victoria, Australia.

Family Drug Support Assists families throughout Australia to deal with alcohol and drug issues in a way that strengthens relationships and achieves positive outcomes.


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