The topics of stigma, judgements and misinformation are nothing new when it comes to discussions on Methadone Maintenance Treatment. Methadone patients have long faced stigma from many different angles. Often times, misinformation and judgements go right along with it. But over my time as a Methadone patient, I've noticed that those judgements and bits of misinformation are not only coming from those unfamiliar with the treatment, but at times directly from within the MMT patient community itself.
Each year, the 31st of August marks an important date. It's a topic that I've touched upon with several articles in the past, and one that needs to be even more widely discussed. Do YOU know what August 31st is?
Despite the recent uproar over the installation of 'anti-homeless' spikes located in cities in the UK and Canada, concrete or metal spikes are only the tip of the iceberg in a disturbing trend of innovative techniques designed to 'repel' the homeless.
Once the photos of 'anti-homeless spikes' began circulating on Twitter, the outrage was fuelled with each successive favourite and retweet. The styles of the anti-homeless 'spikes' varied from photo to photo, ranging from pointed pieces of concrete to spiked pieces of metal protruding dangerously from the ground.
While opponents of harm reduction initiatives have long cited numerous reasons as to why such services are indeed causing harm rather than actually reducing it, research has shown that these programs are in fact leaving a lasting positive impact on the communities and drug users that implement them.
If you've ever had the experience of wasting precious time you'll never get back watching Dr. Drew Pinsky's 'Celebrity Rehab', you might be vaguely familiar with Bob Forrest. A musician and recovering addict himself, Forest had many appearances on 'Celebrity Rehab', in which he was a counsellor charged with assisting other addicts in their recovery during their stay with Dr. Drew. Nowadays, he has taken the leap into opening his own addiction treatment facility, called "Acadia Malibu". On the facility's website, Forrest runs a blog that features a post entitled "Legal Heroin - Chasing The Wagon", in which his feelings about Harm Reduction are made very clear; calling it nothing but a 'con'.
It's been a rough week. I have always been fairly good at brushing off the discrimination my pharmacy dishes out on no regular basis, but the past few days have just pushed me past my limit. They have truly made me feel like less of a human being this week, and it hurts. It bothers me even more that it's actually getting me to me - a lot. Thing is, I know I'm not a unique case. Addicts all over the place are being ignored, mistreated, disrespected, discriminated against and stigmatized. I've had just about enough of it.
It's not as though this is an unheard of problem. It rears it's ugly head in the media and communities on a regular basis. You'll most certainly hear all about it when addiction treatment centres and methadone clinics attempt to open a new clinic in a 'nice neighbourhood'. You'll find it alive and well at hospitals and healthcare facilities, where the general sentiment towards addicts seems to be one of disgust. Ask you neighbours or community members if they'd like to live right beside a known addict, drug user or methadone clinic, and I'm willing the bet the resounding response will be a big fat NO. This is not news. Rather than just complaining or sharing my personal first hand accounts, I thought I'd share some actual research, statistics and cold hard facts that shows the stigma of the addict is a very widespread issue.
For the purpose of this article, I'll be referring to definitions, facts and statistics from the website http://www.drugpolicy.org - I recommend checking out the site for more information, there's plenty of great stuff to sift through. Spread the awareness!
So what exactly is 'stigma'?
"Stigma is defined as the experience of being 'deeply discredited' or marked due to ones 'undesired differentness'. To be stigmatized is to be held in contempt, shunned, or rendered socially invisible because of a socially disapproved status"
Now that we've got a clearer understanding of what exactly it means to be stigmatized, let's take a deeper look. Do my experiences count as being stigmatized? You bet. It's not just me either. Addicts all over are being treated with disrespect and discrimination. Just how bad is it?
"No physical or psychiatric condition is more associated with social disapproval and discrimination than substance dependence"
Pretty glum. It's not just the general population that feels this way either. The stigmatization is rampant amongst healthcare workers as well. This creates huge problems when it comes to ensuring addicts are using safe injection practices and accessing healthcare services when needed.
"According to research, the majority of healthcare professionals hold negative, stereotyped views of people who use illicit drugs. Stigma is a major factor preventing individuals from seeking and completing addiction treatment and from utilizing harm reduction services such as syringe access programs".
My personal experiences sadly only reaffirm the above statement. I've experienced it in hospital ERs, physicians offices, and pharmacies - providing a very different level of care and treatment to addicts, and not in a good way. The stigma of addiction also exists amongst drug users. Those who use softer drugs such as marijuana can often hold negatives views of those using harder drugs such as cocaine or heroin.
So how do change these stigmas? Is it even possible to change such widespread negatives views? Changing the way we refer to those struggling with addiction is one place to start. Rather than calling derogatory and discriminatory names often used to describe the drug user in a negative light, focus on the person.
"The way we talk about drugs and the people who use them can create or uphold stigma. Words like ‘crackhead,’ ‘junkie’ and ‘pillhead’ dehumanize a person who may be struggling with addiction. Focus on the whole person, not a behaviour".
As much as I'd love to be able to brush it all off, it's not that easy. Honestly, It hurts. I'm a person too. I'm someone's daughter, someone's wife. I'm not just the nameless junkie wrecking havoc in your neighbourhood, trashing it up and lowering property values with my unwanted presence. Yes, I'm a recovering addict, but that is far from the only thing that defines me. I'm trying every day to ensure I don't ever slip back into that hell. Remember that no one aspires to be a 'junkie'. Trust me, that detour through addiction hell was definitely not in my ten year plan.
Image via http://stonetreeaus.wordpress.com/
By K. Lanktree
- Freelance Writer -
- Blog Mistress -
- Former IV Drug User -
- Methadone Patient -
- Lover of all things Harm Reduction -
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