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Discrimination against drug addicts is a form of discrimination against individuals who suffer from a drug addiction. In the process of stigmatization, drug addicts are stereotyped as having a particular set of undesirable traits, in turn causing other individuals to act in a fearful or prejudicial manner toward them. Drug use discrimination also leads to many users being secretive about drug use. As it relates to healthcare stigmatizing attitudes surrounding drug use can cause barriers to treatment uptake and engagement. In some of its manifestations, discrimination against drug addicts involves a violation of human rights.
Drug abusers are often depicted as human beings who are not capable of staying drug free and are often addressed using derogatory terms. The reasoning for not helping patients seek the treatments needed are often due to the terms used to identify them, such as "crackhead" or "junkie". The name calling and stigma places a sense of shame for drug users for a disease that takes control of them physically and psychologically. Discrimination against drug abusers is very common in the workplace, and the most familiar example happens when employers give random drug test to see if the employee will pass it. However, according to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, employers are supposed to ensure that alcohol and drug addicts get help and the accommodations that they need. The lack of job opportunities and treatment for drug addicts often results in relapses or in jail.
Drug use discrimination is the unequal treatment people experience because of the drugs they use. People who use or have used illicit drugs may face discrimination in employment, welfare, housing, child custody, and travel, in addition to imprisonment, asset forfeiture, and in some cases forced labor, torture, and execution. Though often prejudicially stereotyped as deviants and misfits, most drug users are well-adjusted and productive members of society. Drug prohibitions may have been partly motivated by racism and other prejudice against minorities, and racial disparities have been found to exist in the enforcement and prosecution of drug laws. Discrimination due to illicit drug use was the most commonly reported type of discrimination among Blacks and Latinos in a 2003 study of minority drug users in New York City, double to triple that due to race. People who use legal drugs such as tobacco and prescription medications may also face discrimination.
Ideas of self-ownership and cognitive liberty affirm rights to use drugs, whether for medicine recreation, or spiritual fulfilment. Those espousing such ideas question the legality of drug prohibition and cite the rights and freedoms enshrined in such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as protecting personal drug choices. They are inspired by and see themselves following in the tradition of those who have struggled against other forms of discrimination in the past.
Drug policy reform organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance, the Drug Equality Alliance, the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, and the Beckley Foundation have highlighted the issue of stigma and discrimination in drug policy. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids also recognizes this issue and shares on its website stories that "break through the stigma and discrimination that people with drug or drinking problems often face."
Punitive approaches to drug policy are severely undermining human rights in every region of the world. They lead to the erosion of civil liberties and fair trial standards, the stigmatization of individuals and groups – particularly women, young people, and ethnic minorities – and the imposition of abusive and inhumane punishments.
Although still illegal at the federal level, about half of U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medical use and several of those states have laws, or are considering legislation, specifically protecting medical marijuana patients from discrimination in such areas as education, employment, housing, child custody, and organ transplantation.
Drug abusers often choose the jail system because being in the real world exposes them to the very things that made them turn to drugs. Many drug users choose jail so they can utilize the Drug Court Program. The first drug court program was started in 1989 in Florida. The purpose of the drug court program was to put the court's authority in motion to reduce the drug crime rate by offering rehabilitation to drug addicts. In 2015, up to 3,000 drug courts were available in the U.S. and merely 120,000 defendants were being worked with per year. The overall goal of the drug court program is to reduce the need for drugs and the crimes that accompany them. Statistics have led researchers to believe drug court may be an effective resolution to end drug addiction.
Drugs (especially opioids and stimulants) can change the motivational patterns of a person and lead to desocialization and degradation of personality. Acquisition of the drugs some times involves black market activities and leads to criminal social circle.
Lack of objective information about drugs
An important role in the process of discrimination is played by the lack of objective information about drug addiction and drug addicts, caused by legislative barriers to scientific research, the displacement of such information by propaganda of various kinds.
Due to the lack of information about drug addiction and drug addicts, people do not understand how an individual can become an addict. Drug addiction has been categorized as a subcategory of mental illness. They are referred to as co-occurring disorders, which means if a person is dealing with an addiction, they may also struggle with a mental illness. Most individuals who suffer from drug dependency are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a mental illness as well. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 8.9 million adults who have an addiction also have a psychiatric disorder. When dealing with either a mental illness or a drug addiction some symptoms people will experience are being incapable of controlling their own impulses and mood swings.
When an individual falls victim to drug addiction, they will undergo the five stages of addiction which are the first use, the continued use, tolerance, dependence, and addiction. The first use stage, is the stage where individuals experiment with drugs and alcohol. This is the stage where individuals will partake in drug use because of curiosity, peer pressure, emotional problems etc. They discover how the drug will make them feel. In the continued use stage, individuals know how the drug makes them feel and is likely to notice that they're not getting “high” as quickly as they use to. In the tolerance stage, the brain and the body have adjusted to the drug and it takes longer to get the “high” an individual is seeking. Tolerance arrives after a period of continued use and is one of the first warning signs of addiction. In the dependence stage, the brain becomes accustomed to the drug and doesn't function well without it. Substance abusers become physically ill without the use of drugs and will begin to develop symptoms of withdrawal. This is sign that the addiction is beginning to take hold of the individual. In the addiction stage, individuals find it impossible to stop using drugs even if they do not enjoy it or if their behavior has caused problems within an individual's life.
With the increasing number of adults that suffer with an addiction, only a few will receive treatment due to the complexity of health care systems. Most health care systems do not have insurance coverage for addiction recovery and many health care providers have little to no training in treating addiction. Some doctors do not feel comfortable treating an addiction due to their lack of knowledge and training of the topic. This is one of the reasons why drug dependence is difficult to recover from.
Drugs and HIV infection
Among injecting drug users, the incidence of HIV infection is higher than among other drug addicts, however punitive and discriminatory measures against drug addicts are not able to eliminate either the spread of drug addiction or HIV.
Africa has an estimated number 28 million substance users. This number is impacted by the rising availability of injection-based drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines. Socio-demographic factors are often primary determinants of the health status of drug users. These factors contribute to individual drug use behaviors such as the sharing of needles and the solicitation of sex in exchange for police protection or more drugs. Nutritional status, family support, stigma/discrimination, adherence to medication, and recovery from addiction are also impacted by these socio-demographic factors. Research shows that the majority of drug users transition from the use of non-injection substances to injection substances or use both simultaneously.
In Kenya there is a link between injection-related discrimination, mental health, physical health, and the quality of life for those who inject drugs. The rates of discrimination are linked to higher levels of psychological distress and risk behaviors. Women in Kenya account for 1/10th of the drug users. These women tend to experience the regular discrimination faced by drug users in addition to gender related discrimination. Levels of discrimination are often higher for those that are also HIV positive.
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Social psychologists have distinguished the largely private experience of stigma in general—stereotypes and prejudice—from the more public, behavioral result which is discrimination. Stereotypes are harmful and disrespectful beliefs about a group. Table 1 lists several examples of stereotypes applied to people with addictions including blame, dangerousness, and unpredictability.
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