THE recent Stigma Strategy launched by the Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce tells us nothing of use about drug addiction but tells us an awful lot about the disconnected professional classes.

In case you missed it, at the end of last year, the brains at the drugs taskforce launched a paper that explained how the problem of drug deaths was all to do with other people stigmatising addicts.

The problem of drug addiction is not about poverty nor about individual weaknesses but about how we the public perceive addicts. Just like sexism and racism, the report tells us, the stigma around addicts is a “cultural phenomenon”. Because we think badly of drug addicts this impacts upon them, their use of services and so on and hey presto – drug deaths.

Unsurprisingly the report says nothing about real inequality. Well, not quite nothing. The report does mention unemployment once and poverty twice, in passing. In comparison, diversity categories of LGBTQ+ and issues around ethnicity are frequently discussed and have their own sections in the report: It’s all about your stigma, you see.

Similarly, the idea of individual choice is attacked, and represented as a regressive form of judgementalism. As if drug addicts have any capacity to choose what they do.

If anything, the report, in essence, is an attack upon judgement. “People with a drug problem,” the report tells us, “often have a perception of themselves that simply reflects the prejudices of others that are based in their stigmatisation”. Stop judging, recognise your prejudices because you, not the addicts, are the problem.

The report attempts to construct this upside-down world by intertwining drug taking in general with the problem of drug addiction. The use of substances, it tells us, “is common in all human societies and in all human history”. And along with this has come the desire by society to have drugs “controlled by those in authority”.

There is truth to this, and the questioning of the criminalisation of drugs is valid. But there is a clear difference, that the report attempts to ignore, or sees as simply a form of prejudice, between occasionally taking drugs, and being a drug addict.

Almost every negative thought about drug addiction is represented here as a problem, as dangerous and to some extent as a form of violence that results in further addiction and death.

Just like racism, public concern about drug addicts is a backward prejudice that needs to be resolved, educated out of us by our enlightened, non-judgemental professionals.

Back in the real world, at a time when old fashioned moral judgementalism has arguably never been so thin on the ground, attitudes to drug addicts are often informed by real experiences of the negative and antisocial behaviour of addicts, rather than by a moralistic concern about drug taking itself.

In Dundee, for example, perhaps the most common experience of addicts is of them staggering around the town centre, screaming at one another. Talking to drug workers, you’ll find that addicts themselves have a condemnatory approach to “real junkies” who will steal from their friends and relatives and cannot be trusted with the most basic forms of decent behaviour.

For the Scottish Government, however, the anti-stigma strategy is to be fully supported. A spokesperson explained that, “There continues to be considerable stigma associated with people who use drugs that is not evident in relation to other diseases”.

But being a drug addict is not the same as having cancer or the flu and the more this infantilised message informs society the less chance there is that addicts will develop a sense of personal responsibility.

Ultimately, this report is not about drug addicts at all, it is about the professional classes, their contempt for the public who dare to make their own judgments, and an unwavering belief that the solution to every problem, for us and the addict, is ever more professional education, support and intervention.

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