Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Prejudice towards heroin users and ex-users

Considerable prejudice exists in society towards heroin and other drug users, which often leaves them feeling stigmatised, isolated and unwilling to access treatment.  Prejudice is also exhibited by people working in the treatment industry, as evidenced by the Mersey Care NHS Trust 'Get Clean' campaign described in Kevin Manley's blog

Surprisingly, there has been little research focused on prejudice in the substance misuse field. Whilst I was still working in Swansea University, we undertook a piece of research with 141 undergraduate students to gain insights into their views of heroin users, ex-users and disabled people. A variety of open and closed questions were used. 
Students were first asked to indicate their attitude to heroin users, former users or disabled people on a thermometer. This ranged from 100 (extremely favourable) to 50 (neither favourable or unfavourable) to 0 (extremely unfavourable). The mean scores were:
  • Heroin users   23.0
  • Former heroin users 41.5 (significantly different to neutral)
  • Disabled people 72.9
Subjects were asked about their emotions and feelings toward these three groups. The most common responses (% of subjects showing response) were:
  • Heroin users: anger (56%), sympathy (29%) and pity (27%)
  • Former heroin users: anger (45%), compassion (29%) and pity (26%)
  • Disabled people: compassion (48%), sympathy (21%), admiration (9%)
These findings not only illustrate the prejudice that can exist against heroin users, but also show that former users are not protected from this response from society. This prejudice works against the recovery process and, difficult as it may sound, it needs to be stamped out of commissioning and treatment services, as well as society in general. I'll return to this research at a later date, but you can find more on the old WIRED website.


Anonymous said...

I suppose the question should be what should it be and what can realistically be achieved?
Is it unreasonable for people in society to feel anger to someone engaged in an illegal activity associated with other offending behaviour along with damage to families and communities. I think the law is wrong and I don't think prejudice is right but users, ex-users and workers have to be realistic.

Anonymous said...

Prejudice the second most deadly 'drug' of dependence of the addict.
It kills by stealth, by ignorance, by design and by institutional systems.
Prejudice maims, extends dependence, isolates, and marginalises.
Prejudice divides healthcare workers, arms law enforcement, secretes the drug trade.
Prejudice enables denial, shame, and low self-esteem.
Without prejudice addicts may well gain freedom from their bondage sooner than present.

Anonymous said...

The thing is... there is a lack of positive ex user role models. The sort who just get on with it and go to work. People who have used and got clean want to disapear and keep quiet. The media occaisonally roll out 'the reformed addict' and patronise them all the way to the bank. Communities are full of people who used to drink and take drugs, its pretty normal. So why this stigma lark? I think we can create our own stigma and that once we decide not to buy into it...we are half way there. Now with drug and alcohol users who are bang at it, thats about public spending and people will show prejudice towards people who are using their hard earned money to finance their illegal lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

I suffer with from clinical depression and have been self-medicating with heroin for four years as I am yet to find a legal antidepressant that works. I smoke rather than inject. I have a successful career in the civil service. I would never consider stealing from anyone to pay for the drug. I have never committed any anti-social behaviour under the influence. Why should society be angry with me?

There is no reason why a heroin user cannot lead an otherwise normal and otherwise law-adiding life. Those who steal to fund their habits were probably thieves before their heroin addiction. No drug, however powerful, can take away a person's morals.