Dealing in Stigma

I’ve been sceptical (to say the very least) about the value of using ex-users in school drug education, this feeling isn’t universally held, the government’s drug strategy for example sees a role for recovery who they believe should “contribute to prevention in communities
and schools.”

I’m concerned that these Recovery Champions are making the same mistakes as their counterparts in Israel (poster here) which concludes that:

A meeting with ex-addict might lead to an increase in readiness to use drugs. This is true especially for those who have already explored drugs.

The UK Drug Policy Commission take a slightly different view, in report looking at the stigma problem drug users face in society they suggest:

There may be worth in such approaches [exposing school children to ex-users] if the accent is on developing compassion and understanding: preventing social stigma that even young children quickly develop towards drug users rather than ‘scaring them straight’.

Which brings me to this paper by researchers at Oxford University which suggests that if we are going to go down the route suggested by the UKDPC that it may be important not to put all the accent on the positive.  They found that where:

a single negative encounter was imagined just prior to imagining a positive encounter resulted in significantly reduced prejudice. Furthermore, reduced anxiety uniquely derived from the mixed-valence imagery task statistically explained enhanced intentions to engage positively with the previously stigmatized group in the future.

For me though I still think we should urge people to take the utmost care when it comes to exposing young people to ex-users and ask them to think about how they will help those young people most at risk to develop the skills and values they need to avoid the harms associated with drug and alcohol misuse.

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Mitch Winehouse

Mitch Winehouse: 'I wish it had been me that died, not Amy … You can help all the kids but it's never going to take the grief away' - Profiles - People - The Independent

Mitch Winehouse has given an interview to The Independent.

He also wants to see widespread drug education programmes, so the foundation is piloting a scheme in Hertfordshire, sending recovered addicts into schools to educate children about the realities of drugs. While the foundation sets to work on this schools project, as well as setting up children’s hospices and investing in rehab centres, Winehouse is learning to cope with his grief in a rather unconventional way.

This worries me as there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that ex-users have a positive impact on young people’s decision-making, and there is some that suggests that the approach that he appears to be supporting has an iatrogenic effect.