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Soc Sci Med. 2008 Oct;67(7):1065-73. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.06.004. Epub 2008 Jul 18.

Are drug treatment services only for 'thieving junkie scumbags'? Drug users and the management of stigmatised identities.

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  • 1University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, UK. p.c.radcliffe@kent.ac.uk

Abstract

This article uses qualitative interviews with 53 problematic drug users who had dropped out of treatment in England, UK to explore how they describe the stigmatisation of drug users and drug services. It discusses the construction of the category of the junkie through its association with un-controlled heroin use and criminality. It shows how some drug users carefully manage information about their discreditable identities by excluding themselves from this category, while acknowledging its validity for other drug users. The junkie identity was generally seen as shameful and therefore to be avoided, although it holds attractions for some drug users. For many of the interviewees, entry to treatment risked exposing their own activities as shaming, as they saw treatment as being a place that was populated by junkies and where it becomes more difficult to manage discreditable information. The treatment regime, e.g. the routine of supervised consumption of methadone, was itself seen by some as stigmatising and was also seen as hindering progress to the desired 'normal' life of conventional employment. Participation in the community of users of both drugs and drug services was perceived as potentially damaging to the prospects of recovery. This emphasises the importance of social capital, including links to people and opportunities outside the drug market. It also highlights the danger that using the criminal justice system to concentrate prolific offenders in treatment may have the perverse effects of excluding other people who have drug problems and of prolonging the performance of the junkie identity within treatment services. It is concluded that treatment agencies should address these issues, including through the provision of more drug services in mainstream settings, in order to ensure that drug services are not seen to be suitable only for one particularly stigmatised category of drug user.

PMID:
18640760
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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