September 3, 2010
Stigma against drug users is a critical barrier to their treatment and social reintegration, according to the first installment of a four-part study by the independent UK Drugs Policy Commission (UKDPC).
Heroin and crack cocaine use, especially, can carry a "stigma life sentence," the report said. For instance, two-thirds of employers said they would not hire a former heroin or crack user, even if he or she were suitable in all other respects, an earlier UKDPC survey found.
Some Tory reformers criticize methadone maintenance therapy, in which users are prescribed methadone for a prolonged, indeterminate period, as "parking" drug users. While evidence for methadone maintenance is strong, stigma against it as a "non-treatment" limits its expansion and optimal delivery, according to studies the UKDPC report cited.
An abstinence-based approach to addiction treatment, reportedly being considered by Britain's new coalition government, could be undermined by stigmatizing attitudes, UKDPC warned.
The Department for Work and Pensions recently proposed docking the welfare benefits of drug users who do nothing about their addiction. The UK drugs minister, James Brokenshire, has acknowledged the importance of methadone programs in stabilizing problem drug users.
"Stabilizing users can then lead to a pathway of recovery where they are free of drugs and can contribute to society by gaining employment, not held in addiction," Brokenshire said.
"The supervised consumption of methadone in pharmacies provides a unique context in which users' status as problem drug users can be made public," the report said. Many clients of pharmacy-based methadone and syringe exchange programs felt "outed" and reported distrust or prejudice by pharmacy staff and fellow customers. Drinking pink liquid from a small cup at the pharmacy is hard to hide, and yet segregating methadone clients from other customers can also be stigmatizing, the report noted.
For the full report, "Sinning and Sinned Against: The Stigmatization of Problem Drug Users," visit: www.ukdpc.org.uk/resources/Stigma_Expert_Commentary_final.pdf.