Blog #4: Drugs don’t discriminate…but people do

My role:

Today I will be talking, again, about something that I do not experience personally, but I see and hear about it a lot, specifically, the opioid crisis and drug use. I feel that there is a lot of stigma about drug users, and it is sad in my opinion because instead of getting help, they feel like they have to hide and never get the help they need. In my hometown, there is a lot of drug abuse. In fact, when you enter the county off of the bay bridge, there is a sign that is updated with the number of overdoses and deaths during the year so far. I know many people who do/did drugs, and many have died from overdoses. I think there is a lot of cognitive dissonance in relation to drug abuse/use. What I mean by this is when people talk about drug users, they usually refer to them as worthless people who are either low class or a minority, but when people find out it is a family member that is addicted to drugs they typically are more forgiving and think it is an addiction problem. I have always been a little bit confused by this because I feel like anyone can be susceptible to becoming addicted to drugs. I also find it very odd that it seems like it is generally accepted that anyone can become an alcoholic regardless of race, sex, or economic status, but not drugs. I believe that this topic definitely relates to diversity and inclusion because when people bring up drug abuse, there are a lot of stereotypes that follow. It is a vicious cycle because some minorities are more prone to be lower income status because of the lack of inclusivity, which leads people to believe they are more likely to become a drug addict. I think this way of thinking is sad. I found a paper entitled “Opioid Crisis: No Easy Fix to Its Social and Economic Determinants” by Dasgupta et al. and it discusses things that put people at risk for opioid abuse. It was very interesting to me because it states that middle-aged whites without a college degree are the ones that experience a lot of drug related mortality. It also suggested that there are factors that do make you at risk such as environment in which you live/grew up and socioeconomic status. I think that these factors are important to consider in order to prevent our minds from stereotyping because any race, religion, sex, gender, etc. can experience these conditions that are considered to make you at risk for drug abuse.

Scholarship:

I think there are a lot of resources out there for preventing drug use and abuse. I found this website from the National institute on drug abuse (https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis). The website gives information on drug abuse such as statistics and ways to combat it. I found another website from the US dept. of Health and Human Services (https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/). This website has information and videos of family members or drug users themselves sharing their journey through addiction. Interestingly, out of the 5 videos, 3 are white families that have dealt with the struggle of knowing or being a drug user. I think looking at these resources if very important for everyone in society even if you don’t personally struggle with this issue because it helps to be informed on the stats and information to combat stereotyping. In regard to scholarship that we have learned, I am sure stereotypes and microaggressions apply to this topic. Like I mentioned above, people have a stereotype about what a drug user looks like or who could be a drug user. Microaggressions occur sometimes when people say things like “Are you on drugs” when people do or say something stupid. Of course, using drugs is not great, but the way people say things can be hurtful and cause a drug user to hide the fact that they are using until it is too late. Like the article I mentioned above, there are numerous studies about drug use and abuse. You can find a lot of information about it and addiction being a disease but people still have stereotypes and stigmas against drug users.

What’s missing:

I think a proper understanding is missing. Unless you are an addict, I don’t think you can understand and unless you personally know people who are addicts it is easy to disconnect and be biased and racist about who you believe use drugs. I also think doctors are part of the problem because they will prescribe these drugs as an easy solution. I think medicine needs to be careful with drug distribution. Some drugs are very helpful, but prescriptions should not be for 2 months of a drug you only need for 2 weeks. With addictive drugs, I think more educational material should be given to patients before actually receiving the prescription. I understand people need to relieve pain, but when there are other options that do not require long term opioid use, I think that option would be helpful to combat this problem. I also think education in school is missing because although I grew up in a drug ridden community, we didn’t talk much about it. I think if kids were better educated that this can impact anyone, they would take the issue more seriously and not stereotype it. I think it is also important to address how drug addicts are treated. Society treats them as criminals and sometimes it is hard for them to get good help. Overall, I think compassion and understanding is missing and I think better education would be very beneficial.

Implications:

I think the implications of lack of inclusivity of drug users can be monumental. Instead of having stereotypes, we could be helping these people. I think education and prevention can have a huge impact on the number of overdose related deaths. It is hard to imagine a family member going through the struggle of drug addiction, but if we are aware of signs it will be easier to identify and solve the problem. I think if we try to eliminate the stereotypes against drug users or who we think are/will be drug users, it will be beneficial for everyone because loved ones will not feel ashamed and they may seek help that could save their life. Especially at a younger age, peer pressure and stereotyping can have a huge impact on actions and if we can prevent use in the first place, we may be able to save a lot of people from addiction.

 

Citations:

Dasgupta N, Beletsky L, Ciccarone D. Opioid Crisis: No Easy Fix to Its Social and Economic Determinants. Am J Public Health. 2018;108(2):182–186. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.304187

8 Replies to “Blog #4: Drugs don’t discriminate…but people do”

  1. I like that you did this topic! I grew up when the DARE program first started. The whole “don’t do drugs” campaign was so full of biases it wasn’t even funny. Not to mention the fact that most of us didn’t really take it all that seriously. At the time it was only required of 5th graders (it still may be like this now?) for a few months in the spring and then you didn’t really learn anything more about drugs for the rest of your time in school. There were also lots of ads back in the 80s as well that again, were very stereotypical viewpoints of what drug abuse looked like. I think the DARE program’s purpose was a good intention but it lacked in real education and success in my opinion. Flash forward to my adult years. I have seen what drug abuse looks like within my own extended family and know how hard it is for them to pull out of. As a former foster parent, I also saw what drugs did to families and especially their kids. I would often get frustrated when friends or close family would say things like I just don’t know how people could do that to their kids, or why can’t they just stop doing drugs how selfish, or refer to them as “those” people (aka “white trash”) (HUGE SIGH!) I often found myself having to defend them. Yes, this is sad but it’s not 100% their fault either. Doing foster care, you get a very eye opening view of just how f#@&’d our system is for helping people with drug abuse! Let’s just say it’s pretty pathetic! Even worse, is if they go to jail they still do not get help for their addictions in jail either! Often times, I saw families, that because of their particular situations, could not easily separate themselves from the “bad influences” in their lives because it was their parent or someone they were living with, or the lacked the resources to get the help needed. Education is definitely important but we need more than that! We need to actually help people! You are right that doctors make the situation worse and should be made more accountable for getting people hooked on pain medicines for example, but we also need to look at the root cause of why people end up with drug abuse patterns and help them fix this! Whether it stems from mental issues, medical issues, lack of resources to get away from situations, or even just getting them the help they need period. Rehab is not free and often comes with other consequences such as losing your job. We’re all just people struggling in this world, just in various different ways, and until we show compassion at all levels and actually help people where and how they need it things won’t change.

  2. The DARE program was just another failed attempt at the school system and all it did was ostracize yet another group of people. I get it, we have to find something the problem but all jokes aside…this wasn’t it.
    Anywho, I came from a family that got addicted. It is so hard for people to understand what the person and the family goes through when someone is addicted, especially when they blatantly tell you they will never stop. It is really hard.

    I hate the fact that doctors don’t help with addicts because they continue to prescribe these drugs that can cause addiction and say its the person’s fault if they get addicted. NOOO! It’s your responsibility to make sure you are doing all you can to make the person feel better in every way possible! Even if that means you have to refer them to another doctor that deals with addiction!

    It just really grinds my gears when I think about how people look at people that do drugs and then look at the kids, like “oh you poor baby, your mother was a crack whore”. As if the kid doesn’t know their parent is on drugs and they struggle every day at home. Being looked down on as if you probably won’t succeed because of where you come from is the most annoying thing that society does! I know some of the smartest, nicest, most genuine people that came from some of the worst backgrounds! But guess what? They tried their best to make the best out of a situation and succeeded.

    I just want drug abuse needs to be more than a “one-time” lesson it needs to be explained better and also explained through the eyes of someone that has experienced it so that way people can get a better understanding of what actually needs to be done to stop addiction.

  3. This topic about opioids is timed perfectly when a webinar I participated in today. The topic was, The Opioid Crisis: How Financial Institutions Can Mitigate Risk. The presentation was based on a fraud examiner’s perspective of dealing with this health issue. Most of this was targeted at how a fraud examiner can identify dealers or abusers of the system (not users, mind you, but the people that are writing the prescriptions). Interesting fact, in October 2019, a Martinsville, VA doctor – Dr. Joel Smithers was operating a “pill mill” and received 40-years in prison for prescribing over 500,000 Schedule II controlled substances to “patients”, over a span of 2 years (https://www.npr.org/2019/10/02/766403612/doctor-gets-40-years-for-illegally-prescribing-more-than-half-a-million-opioid-d). To put that into context, there are less than 14,000 people in Martinsville VA and more than half of that this independent city as white (the surrounding county – Henry is nearly 90% white). I bring this up because for the first time, in my experience, instead of talking about the victims of the opioid crisis, about the causes for usage (their economic status, race, previous addictions) – essentially blaming them, the conversation was the reverse. It blamed the doctor’s prescribing these drugs for abusing their power and there was a small attack the family who owns the pharmaceutical company for profiting off the backs of addicts. Anyways, it was nice to alter the subject matter by moving away from blaming the users.

    As another note, Virginia Cooperative Extension received funding to help address the opioid crisis in rural regions of the state, and so there are a great many people in the College of Ag and Life Sciences pushing for change. Here’s a little highlight about VT’s efforts: https://blogs.ext.vt.edu/vce-news/2018/11/28/virginia-cooperative-extension-awarded-nearly-1-1m-to-tackle-the-states-opioid-epidemic/

  4. I found this to be a very interesting topic, and I agree. There is so much stigma towards those who use drugs, and I know my family is definitely part of the problem. For example, you are out and you see someone stick thin who looks as though she is “methed out”, and my mom will comment how sad it is and how that person needs to get help. To be fair, my mom also works in property management and is responsible for evicting people from their homes. It is definitely a career which exposes her to drug users and overall not nice people at times. As for the rest of my family, my uncle was a drug user and it caused him to get his leg amputated, and then lead to heart disease which finally took his life. So, I personally have seen the toll drug use takes on a person, and I have also seen how nearly impossible it is to see a life without drug use once you are that deep into it. Overall, I think people need to just try and be more understanding. Addiction takes many forms, and those, like me, who are addicted to coffee are really in the same boat as those who are addicted to harsher things. I think those who are not privy to the scientific literature also are very unforgiving towards those with drug issues because they believe it is a choice. There is some choice to this situation, of course, but I also think there are genetic factors and environmental influences which contribute heavily to a person’s drug problem, and those things are not within a person’s control. So, I applaud you for bringing up this topic and I enjoyed reading this post a lot.

  5. Thank you for the post. I totally agree that there is a lot of stigma towards drug users. This is very sad as it brings shame, fear and guilt, and prevent people with substance use disorders from seeking care. DrugRehab.com reported that “a 2014 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that Americans are more likely to have negative opinions of people with substance use disorders than they are of those with mental illnesses. Participants were also less likely to approve housing, insurance or employment policies that supported individuals affected by addiction compared with individuals affected by other mental illnesses.” Like you said I completely agree that this is also an issue of inclusion. Just as people suffering from other mental health issues need social support and inclusion, people with substance use disorders also need social support and inclusion. According to DrugRehab.com, “social support and social inclusion are leading contributors to a successful recovery from addiction. Conversely, the discrimination, isolation and prejudice caused by stigma are risk factors for substance abuse and relapse”. Like you mentioned, one of the reason people with substance use disorders are stigmatized is due to inadequate education on the subject. In the past there was much fears about many mental health issues because people didn’t know much about it. Currently, things have improved a little bit as people are becoming more aware and enlightened about mental health issues. If people are educated more about addiction, there would become less stigmatization of people with substance use disorder.

  6. Great topic! I recently read Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari, which if you have not read it, you simply must! It talks about a lot of issues you bring up in your post. The author incorporates personal stories from addicts themselves and their family members who sometimes get out of the cycle or fall it into themselves even after promising they would never. The author also incorporates statements from scientists on how addiction works and how it has been scientifically proven that certain methods that help addicts instead of punishing them are far more affective not only in helping that individual but then having them become a functioning part of society again by contributing to the workforce. Mostly, the book talks about how laws and the government punish those who are poor and in minority groups above all else and not all addicts, especially when it goes through the history of the war on drugs and how extremely racist it is by who is targeted. Just the pure amount of people who participate in drugs in college but do not get busted compared to people who get busted doing the same thing in a poor neighborhood is absurd. It is weird how people are so ready to condemn those who do drugs but are not willing to look into why so many people turn to drugs and continue to fall into this cycle in our society. It is obvious this mode of dealing with drugs is not working and if you listen to the science, compassion and help is the way to go.

  7. Drug use is an issue close to my heart. Without going into too much detail, I will say I’ve personally seen the impacts of what drugs will do to a person and those they love. Youre right, it effects every demographic. Just as a disease doesn’t discriminate its host, neither does addiction. Addiction can take all forms. You can become addicted to chapstick use, TV watching, sex, and drugs. It’s linked to genetics. Addiction runs in families. It’s also environmental. Growing up with a parent suffering from drug addiction makes you much more likely to suffer from it as well. I agree that doctors contribute to the issue with opioid issues. Even drugs like Adderall have very negative consequences and are highly addictive; but they aren’t looked at in as negative of a light as marijuana because it is legal. More research is needed! On the effects of drugs as well as on the effects of addiction in general. The stigmatization of what a drug user looks like or where they come from needs to stop. In Birmingham there is a huge opioid crisis. Two of my boyfriend’s friends from high school have died from overdosing. And more that he wasn’t friends with have died as well. They die so young with so much potential. But somehow they became involved in reckless behavior and could never get out. Some think that legalizing all drugs might help with this crisis. When Portugal legalized all drugs, there was a direct decrease in drug related deaths. Both from less overdose and also from less crime related to selling illegal drugs. I’m not saying this is the best answer. But the war on drugs is not working.

  8. This was a much needed post, thank you for sharing! I remember we had police officers come to our school assemblies to tell us that drugs are bad and as 3rd & 4th graders we didn’t really “get it”. As I’ve gotten older and looked back at these campaigns there is definitely a lot that wasn’t truthful or kind. I agree with much of what you said and I think a lot of humanity is missing in these discussions as well. I’m in the field of Public Health & Implementation Science and one of the focuses we looked into was the opioid epidemic and how Roanoke is attempting to solve some of the problems. They wanted to set up a needle exchange program that would allow users & abusers to have clean needles because one of the side effects of this epidemic is a huge rise of HIV and other diseases from dirty needles. As they exchange needles, there would be a large selection of pamphlets and support groups for users to join if they wanted to quit because shockingly most users WANT to stop using. It’s just that nobody is listening to them or caring enough to ask why they use drugs and what they can do to help them turn away from using opioids (which are very addictive in their own right).
    This is a public health crisis that requires widespread action but the Chief of Police for Roanoke believed (like many others) that a needle exchange program further enabled users and would not support it. So the program has been on hold ever since. He offered a needle drop off where users can give their paraphernalia to the police and not suffer charges but it’s very hard for drug users to trust the police in that situation. They need a safe place and informed friends that could administer narcan in the worst case scenario and the police aren’t stepping up to provide either of those in a substantial manner. I, like you, am hopeful that someday we can look at these problems from a place of understanding and not condemnation.

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