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January 10, 2018

Journalists advised to swap vocab on drug addiction to help change public perception

By Thomas Kavanagh

New advice has called on journalists to change the language they use in reporting on drug addiction.

A report by The Global Commission on Drugs Policy says the media is a “strong influence” on how society perceives drugs and needs to alter it’s vocabulary when it talks about them.

The report, titled The World Drug Perception Problem, directs the media to avoid phrases such as “drug user” and “drug habit” in favour of less loaded terms such as “person who uses drugs” and “problematic drug use”.

It also wants to avoid the use of the word “addicted” in favour of “use disorder”.

The advice includes replacing the following words and phrases:

Don’t Use Use
Drug user Person who uses drugs
Recreational, casual, or experimental users Person with non-problematic drug use
Addict; drug/substance abuser; junkie; dope head; pothead; smack head; crackhead; druggie; stoner Person with drug dependence; person with problematic drug use; person with substance use disorder; person who uses drugs (when use is not problematic)
Drug habit Substance use disorder; problematic drug use
Addicted to X Has a X use disorder
Clean Abstinent; person who has stopped using drugs
Dirty Actively uses drugs; positive for substance use
Fight, counter, combat drugs and other (combatant language) Respond, program, address, manage
Fix rooms Safe consumption facility
Former addicts, reformed addict Person in recovery, person in long-term recovery
Injecting drug user Person who injects drugs
Opioid replacement therapy Opioid substitution therapy

The report says: “The language used when speaking about or referring to people who use drugs has a tremendous impact on how they view themselves and how they are viewed by others.

“Public opinion and media portrayals reinforce each other while contributing to and perpetuating stigma associated with drugs and drug use.

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“No medical condition is more stigmatised than ‘addiction’.

“As shown above, public perception is that drug use, including problematic drug use, is a choice and that individuals choose not to control it, i.e. not to stop, and therefore the public generally does not allow for the presence.”

Members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy include former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former deputy Prime Minister Sir Nick Clegg and Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson.

Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and chairman of the commission, said: “Prejudices and fears surrounding drugs are expressed in stigmatising language – stigmatisation leads to social discrimination and repressive laws, and prohibition validates fears and prejudices.

“This vicious cycle must be broken. The Global Commission has therefore chosen to dedicate its seventh report to the world drug perception problem.”

Read the full report.

Picture: Pixabay

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