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Scotland to ban ‘addict, alcoholic and junkie’ under new ‘stigma charter’ to tackle war on drugs

Organisations in Scotland have been warned they must replace words like ‘addict’ and ‘alcoholic’ with more ‘positive’ language to help tackle the nation’s drug crisis.

The Scottish Nationalist Party trumpeted the changes as part of ‘hard-hitting’ new campaign backed by Nicola Sturgeon and her drugs minister Angela Constance.

Terms such as ‘alcoholic’, ‘junkie’, ‘substance abuse’ and ‘addict’ are all set to be scrapped under a new prejudice-busting charter that aims to protect those in desperate need of support from low self-esteem and poor mental health.

Funded by the taxpayer, the Scottish Government will instead plaster terms such as ‘person with problematic substance use’ across billboards, newspapers and television adverts in its latest bid to curb the country’s damning drugs death figures. 

Campaigners were critical of the new measures, arguing that of greater concern for charities that help addicts was a nationwide lack of support services. 

Drug-related deaths in Scotland reached their highest point since records began as 1,339 fatalities were linked to narcotics last year, cementing the nation’s place as the drugs death capital of Europe. 

Funded by the taxpayer, the Scottish Government will instead plaster terms such as 'person with problematic substance use' across billboards, newspapers and television adverts

Organisations in Scotland have been warned they must replace words like ‘addict’ and ‘alcoholic’ with more ‘positive’ language to help tackle the nation’s drug crisis

Drug-related deaths in Scotland reached their highest point since records began as 1,339 fatalities were linked to narcotics last year, cementing the nation's place as the drugs death capital of Europe. Pictured: Ewan McGregor who played an addict in the film, Trainspotting (1996)

Drug-related deaths in Scotland reached their highest point since records began as 1,339 fatalities were linked to narcotics last year, cementing the nation’s place as the drugs death capital of Europe. Pictured: Ewan McGregor who played an addict in the film, Trainspotting (1996)

The new campaign, which launched on Monday, aims to emphasise addiction as a health condition after Ms Constance claimed prejudice stopped addicts from seeking help for their conditions.

Pushing for the widespread changes in rhetoric, her argument was that those with a dependency on drugs ‘should receive help and support, not judgement’. 

As a result, Scotland’s Drugs Death Taskforce arranged a new ‘stigma charter’ to be used by charities, businesses and community groups when referring to substance abusers. 

It is the SNP’s latest desperate bid to tackle its astronomical drugs death rate, which stands at three-and-a-half times higher than in the rest of the UK per the latest figures.

Since the political party were elected into power 14 years ago, the total number of people believed to have died as a result of drugs-related activity exceeds 10,000. 

A screenshot from Scotland's NHS inform webpage (pictured) shows a suggested list of appropriate terms when discussing alcohol and drug addiction

A screenshot from Scotland’s NHS inform webpage (pictured) shows a suggested list of appropriate terms when discussing alcohol and drug addiction

The Scottish Nationalist Party trumpeted the changes as part of 'hard-hitting' new campaign backed by Nicola Sturgeon and her drugs minister Angela Constance (pictured)

The Scottish Nationalist Party trumpeted the changes as part of ‘hard-hitting’ new campaign backed by Nicola Sturgeon and her drugs minister Angela Constance (pictured)

The grim toll went up 5 per cent last year, the seventh annual rise in a row, as the country continued to have the worst fatality rate in Europe

The grim toll went up 5 per cent last year, the seventh annual rise in a row, as the country continued to have the worst fatality rate in Europe

The latest official figures for 2020 show that rates have soared among the middle-aged

The latest official figures for 2020 show that rates have soared among the middle-aged 

Ms Sturgeon was accused of presiding over 'national shame' on the drugs deaths

Ms Sturgeon was accused of presiding over ‘national shame’ on the drugs deaths

Scottish drug deaths hit record high of 1,339 – the worst in Europe – after rising for a SEVENTH year running 

Nicola Sturgeon was accused of presiding over ‘national shame’ as Scotland’s drugs deaths hit a record of 1,339.

The grim toll went up 5 per cent last year, the seventh annual rise in a row, as the country continued to have the worst fatality rate in Europe.

With 21.2 deaths per 1,000 people, the level is more than three-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the UK.

Some 291 lost their lives in Glasgow alone – the worst hit area. Of the overall figure, 1,192 deaths were related in some way to opioids.

Amid outrage at the scale of the tragedy, Ms Sturgeon said it was ‘unacceptable’ and each was a ‘human tragedy’.

She insisted the Scottish Government ‘does not shirk the responsibility & we are determined to make changes that will save lives’.

In a sign that more drug users are mixing substances, benzodiazepines – use of which has soared in recent years due to easy availability – were implicated in 974 deaths in 2020.

Men were also 2.7 times more likely to die from drugs than women last year, with 973 deaths compared with 366 female victims.

Deprivation also continued to be a major factor in drug deaths, with those in the poorest areas of the country 18 times more likely to die than their more affluent counterparts, the data showed.

Amid outrage at the scale of Scotland’s narcotics crisis, Ms Sturgeon said earlier this year that it was ‘unacceptable’ and each of its 1,339 deaths was a ‘human tragedy’.

Dr Tara Shivaji, Consultant at Public Health Scotland, warned Scotland faced a dual-pronged threat of public health crises, firstly from Covid-19 and also from ‘preventable drug overdose deaths’. 

Ms Sturgeon was accused of the ‘de-facto decriminalisation’ of drugs, despite the nation’s ever-rising death toll from narcotics.

Police officers were advised to issue only a ‘recorded police warning’ to anyone they catch in possession of illicit substances, including Class A heroin and cocaine.

SNP ministers were accused of ‘waving the white flag’ and of forcing the change through by the ‘back door’.

More than 10,000 offenders a year were fined or otherwise prosecuted under the previous rules. Recorded police warnings were introduced by the SNP government for ‘low-level offences’ in 2016. 

Tom Buchan, a former chief superintendent with now-defunct Strathclyde Police, said: ‘This is a surrender – the white flag has gone up. It will have no benefits at all and it comes in the middle of a huge drugs emergency – it’s more soft-touch nonsense.

‘I feel sorry for the officers who will have to implement this – they don’t want to be turning a blind eye to crime.

‘I don’t know who they’ve consulted on this, if anyone, but it is basically just throwing in the towel.’

Annemarie Ward, chief executive of the charity Faces and Voices of Recovery UK, told the Telegraph that although language is powerful, a more pressing issue was the ‘severe dearth of services’ available to those seeking rehabilitation.

She said: ‘Language is powerful. 

‘It can either undermine a person’s experiences and create a culture of blame and shame or it can promote hope and show that recovery is possible by not labelling a person by the substances they use.

‘But in Scotland we have a severe dearth of services available to people who want to get off alcohol and other drugs regardless of what we label them.’  

Trainspotting. Pictured from left: Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan Mcgregor, Kevin Mckidd, Ewen Bremner

Popular culture has attempted to wade into Scotland’s drug crisis in recent decades. Trainspotting (1996) became an iconic piece of cinema that captured the attention of a Scottish generation that grew up alongside drugs and alcohol abuse

Gregor Fisher starred as the Glaswegian alcoholic and anti-hero Rab C Nesbitt (pictured) in the BBC's critically acclaimed sitcom of the same name

Gregor Fisher starred as the Glaswegian alcoholic and anti-hero Rab C Nesbitt (pictured) in the BBC’s critically acclaimed sitcom of the same name

The Scottish Tories also slammed the SNP’s latest move, arguing it is unhelpful to ‘ban a series of terms that are relevant to the debate on drugs and alcohol’. 

Scottish Conservative Shadow Public Health Minister Sue Webber MSP said: ‘It’s right that we do all we can to avoid stigmatising those with drug and alcohol dependency issues because we want to make it easier for them to come forward and seek help.

‘It’s important that we are careful with our choice of words, but equally we have to be able to discuss these issues frankly and in a language that the public understands.’

Popular culture has attempted to wade into Scotland’s drug crisis in recent decades. The BBC’s critically acclaimed comedy series Rab C Nesbitt saw the Glaswegian alcoholic and anti-hero tackle addiction.

Meanwhile, Trainspotting, released in 1996, became an iconic piece of cinema that captured the attention of a generation and highlighted the widespread depth of the narcotics disaster in Scotland.

The Scottish Drugs Deaths Taskforce’s ‘stigma charter’ in full: 

Evidence demonstrates that many who could benefit from treatment can be discouraged from doing so by language, attitudes and behaviours that appear judgmental, even if these are displayed unwittingly. 

Stigma can negatively impact the morale of those providing support services, and friends and families of those at risk can often feel the effects of stigma by association, at a time when they too deserve support.

The Taskforce recognises that tackling stigma could make a significant contribution to reducing drug-related deaths in Scotland and has published a strategy paper supporting this and highlighting a way forward. 

We encourage all our stakeholders to be aware of the negative impact of stigma and work to ensure every touchpoint in support services projects a positive, encouraging outlook to those engaging with them. 

And we encourage our partners in their efforts to raise public awareness of the potentially devastating effects of stigma.

We also ask that anyone, including media, writing or commenting on issues relating to substance use, including drug related deaths, to do so without using the stigmatising language or imagery that perpetuates harm to those at risk. 

Instead, we support any effort to work together to create a safe space for those at risk, those in recovery, and people impacted by someone else’s substance use.

Images of drugs, broken bottles, paraphernalia, and people in vulnerable conditions can tend to be the stock images of alcohol and drugs that are used in most media articles. Yet these are negative and stigmatising. 

Similarly, stigmatising language such as ‘user’ and ‘addict’ can be seen time and time again, together with terms such as ‘drug abuse’, ‘drug user’, and with people who are being interviewed are titled ‘ex-addict’ or ‘former drug abuser’.

We support the approach recommended by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, and the Scottish Recovery Consortium in their joint research programme entitled Insert Standard Stigmatising Headline & Image Here: Rewriting the Media’s Portrayal of Addiction and Recovery and the six recommendations it has for journalists and editors:  

  • Use positive imagery 
  • Adopt People First language 
  • Use your article as an opportunity to educate 
  • Always include support service information 
  • Learn about lived experience and the impact of stigma 
  • Include more positive stories reflecting recovery, support, and lived/living experiences  

 Source: drugdeathstaskforce.scot/about-the-taskforce/tackling-stigma


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