On Friday 12th February 2016 I presented to the UCC Journalism Society on a subject that I am passionate about.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines addiction as the dependence syndrome as being a cluster of physiological, behavioural, and cognitive phenomena in which the use of a substance or a class of substances takes on a much higher priority for a given individual than other behaviours that once had greater value.
Note that the term Addiction is not used by the WHO. The term addiction for many is a label people carry for the rest of their lives. For example “I am a recovering addict” “I am an addict” The term addict for many is demeaning and adds to the stigma of a individual who uses drugs.
In my experience most of the people I have worked with have suffered trauma in one way or another and use drugs as a coping mechanism. For many stigma prevents people from accessing help because of the feelings of worthlessness and shame.
Much of the recent media debate in Ireland is on Drug Policy Reform and Decriminalisation of the possession of drugs for personal use , which removes the drug user from criminal sanctions and moves it to a health approach. In many of the articles discussing decriminalisation the term addicts or drug abusers along side a picture of ‘ The Needle’ has been shown in most articles. I don’t know why the media still continue to use a picture of a needle when addressing the issue of drugs , its become a stereotypical picture where tthose who inject drugs are dehumanised and it ignores the attributes these individuals have .
Media play a large part in influencing Government Policies in many areas. The media have a role in providing accurate information and informing public perception and on issues using terminology such as clean, addict, drug abusers is dehumanising and it becomes the defining feature of an individuals character.
The label can be hard to escape. News reports often reinforce and perpetuate the stigma of drug dependence, as an individual names in an article can be referred to as a “former drug addict” or in some news reports of a death of an individual the term “know heroin user” or “ ex heroin user”
We see this more clearly in the way Drug Related Deaths are reported , the fatalities from alcohol are not reported in the same way as those die where heroin or methadone is implicated. As we move drug use discourse to a health related matter so the narratives within the media needs to follow and terminology needs to change or reduce the stigma or those individuals that use drugs otherwise the public perception will remain the same.
Medically Supervised Injection Centres
In 2012 I made a presentation ‘The Case’ Safer Injecting Facilities. In the past 12 month the discussion has come to the forefront within the Media and within political circles we have seen a lot of attention being given to Medically Supervised Injecting Centers, however most of the attention has been to reduce ‘ The Needle’ on the street which needs to be highlighted but my concern is that all the other services that are attached to these Centers haven’t been highlighted such as Blood Bourne Virus Screening, Detoxification, Methadone Treatment referrals to other treatment services.
These Centres provide a Continuum of Care Approach, as Liz Evans from InSite in Vancouver highlighted we need to avoid simple narratives when describing Injecting Facilites as they are only part of the jigsaw in the social context.
Spent Convictions Bill
Recently it was announced that the Spent Convictions Bill will come into Legislation in April 2016 , while I welcome this new bill I see a conflict between the discussions on Decriminalisation and this bill. For many people who want to Rehabilitate themselves employment is a key factor .
- The current bill states that a conviction can be become ‘ Spent’ after 7 years for a conviction that is less than a 12 month custodial sentence or a 24 moth suspended sentence. The bill doesn’t distinguish between the nature of the sanction and the rehabilitation period, rather than the blanket 7 year period for all sanctions, whether a small fine or 12 months in prison.
- That only one conviction becomes spent and subsequent convictions remain on record
So for those individuals who have more than one conviction this bill does not help in anyway moving them on from their previous past and for many keep them in the cycle of poverty and unemployment
For Decriminalisation to work in its full capacity this bill needs to change by :-
- Removing the cap of the number of convictions that become spent.
- Needs to be proportionate between the nature of the sanction and the rehabilitation period, rather than the blanket 7 year period for all sanctions.
The importance of employment, formal or informal, for well-being and participation in society is well-established, and for people who have had drug problems it can be vital for establishing a new social identity this bill in its current form hinders this potential progression