A Note from Dr. Andrew Tatarsky:
Why Fight Drug User Stigma? 

DepressedWomanStigma kills. Social stigma is defined as the extreme disapproval of (or discontent with) a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of a society. Stigma contributes to drug users’ expectation of being misunderstood, shunned, criticized and punished. In turn, this contributes to drug users hiding, keeping drug use private and not asking of help when concerned about their use. These factors cause increased shame, guilt, anxiety, self-hate, isolation and despair which may lead to increased problematic drug use and overdose.

Then there’s prohibition. Prohibition needs stigma to justify itself. When you think rationally and critically about criminalizing drug users, isn’t it really insane?! Putting someone in prison for the simple act of putting a substance into her body without harming another person… How did we ever come up with that idea and justify it? It flies in the face of everything reasonable people hold dear to their hearts: The Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Ten Commandments, Buddhist Compassion, “With Liberty and Justice for All”, Cognitive Liberty, human rights, social justice. Portugal (and other countries) decriminalized drugs 10 years ago and made a national commitment to shift the social attitudes about drugs from stigma and criminalization to compassion and support. The results are in; this shift is associated with less drug use, fewer overdoses and more people in treatment. We believe that prohibition is fueled by racism, fascist politics, war mongering, political ambition, economic benefits and job security for the corporate, military, industrial criminal justice system and billion dollar rehab industry.

If we stop stigmatizing drug users and, instead, create accepting, compassionate spaces in our relationships, families, professional offices and communities, we might help users feel more free to seek help when they become concerned about their use, discover the meaning of their problematic drug use and find new healthier solutions. Let’s fight stigma and working together to create more of those compassionate spaces.


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