Drug Deaths Taskforce response: cross government approach

Cross government response to the Drug Deaths Taskforce report, Changing Lives. It contains a cross government action plan, response to Taskforce recommendations and a stigma action plan.

24. What is stigma and why does it matter?

Stigma can involve negative assumptions, prejudice and discrimination against someone based on a characteristic, condition or behaviour. It is not based on fact or evidence. In the case of substance use, it is often rooted in moral judgements about the 'wrongness' of what is assumed to be a choice.

Stigma, as defined by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), as 'the unfair and unjust action towards an individual or group on the basis of real or perceived status or attributes, a medical condition (e.g., HIV), socioeconomic status, gender, race, sexual identity, or age'

Certain ways of talking about problem substance use can alienate people affected and contribute to stigma by creating and perpetuating inaccurate assumptions.

For example, media and other depictions which:

  • sensationalise substance use as either glamorous or inherently linked to serious and violent crime;
  • portray harmful stereotypes of people and families affected by drugs and alcohol – as criminals (beyond the use of illegal substances); anti-social; poorly educated; hopeless and as failures;
  • portray Dependency as a lifestyle choice;
  • use language to dehumanise people who use drugs.

People who are subjected to stigma may be more reluctant to seek treatment, or support for their addiction or for other health issues.

Stigma can, and often does extend beyond the person with problem drug or alcohol use and it can affect people at any stage of their journey. Families also experience stigma as an extension of the stigma directed at their loved one. Those working in services to support people with problem substance use and their families can also experience stigma.

Stigma and discrimination exist within the structures of institutions as well as in the social and public sphere, this leads to restrictions and barriers, arbitrary rules and exclusionary practices.

Individuals report experiencing stigma when accessing all types of services, seeking employment, accessing training and education, seeking medical help for any health condition, accessing prescriptions including opiate substitution therapy as well as in day-to-day life.


Email: Drugsmissiondeliveryteam@gov.scot

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