The presentation is held by Pete Nielson, the CEO of the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP), and Michael Prichard, who has served as the Chairman of the same organization. Nielson has been in the field of addiction counseling for many years, keeping his pulse on drug legislation changes and educating on addiction issues. Prichard currently takes the position of the Vice and Legislative Chair in the CCAPP. Both presenters came to the field driven by their passion for impacting people, with their recovery and professional experience. The speakers discuss drug legislation, its history, and changes that led to the current discrimination practices. They also emphasize how historically formed biases towards substance use are present in modern perception.
The first idea highlighted by Nielson is the importance of not stigmatizing people with substance dependence. Such words as “alcoholic” or “abuser” should be abandoned, when communicating with recovering patients, and replaced with expressions like “suffer from”. I agree with the speaker: addiction does not define an individual. Therefore, the language used to describe a person with any dependencies should be respectful and conscious. I appreciate the fact the discussion starts with this note since I genuinely find it a profound clarification within this topic, especially before this course, I have not considered that a critical issue. However, Prichard rightfully underlines there is no way you come into this field without contacting a person with substance use disorders. Same works with the phrase “I understand,” which underestimates a recovering person’s experience and alienates them.
The discussion is built around the course content and the textbook Drug Use and Abuse by Abadinsky. Whereas the book lists trends and changes in drug policy and people’s attitudes, the speakers also raise topics that are superficially covered in the reading. The early alcohol prohibition movement was, to a certain extent, provoked by women who suffered from abuse due to their husband’s dependencies. Thus, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was established in 1874, “but was handicapped because its members lacked the franchise – women could not vote” (Abadinsky, 2017). Thus, as Nielson notes, they could not directly address these issues they found disturbing in man’s behavior, so they had to find a scapegoat, and this scapegoat was alcohol itself. In this way, this contributed to the formulation of America’s view on substance abuse: it is focused not on individuals, but the substance causing undesired behavior. The same undertone and moral issues associated with abuse are still there and establish the moral perception of doing drugs as an act of an immoral person.
I appreciate Nielson’s example when comparing this formulated belief of the immorality of alcoholism with an observed reaction to a falling anvil on one’s toe. You cannot see a person’s pain emerge due to the anvil’s enormous weight hitting the foot, so out of context, you will be limited to judging one just by negative emotions that are on the surface. In this way, it is an irrelevant and erroneous approach to build an idea of substance abuse only based on the observed behavior of people suffering from a certain type of pain that provokes their dependence.
The speakers proceed with referring to the racism issues related to drug policy. This is another part that connects the presentation to in-class materials. In particular, as Nielson highlights, in the same way, white Christian women could not directly promote alcohol prohibition, white Americans found a way to impact the Asian population that was believed to be stealing jobs. They attacked opium use to be able to control Chinese people and discriminate against them. Moreover, the regulation of marijuana was commonly used as a tool to influence and control the Hispanic population, which was most associated with this particular drug. In both cases, racism is indirectly integrated into American drug legislation. Abadinsky (2019) also states this idea, noting that “depressed economic conditions and xenophobia” were the factors leading to “anti-Chinese legislation that often included prohibiting the smoking of opium” (p. 28). Eventually, the first moves in the formulation of the U.S. drug policy began with slow aggression and racism that certainly left a footprint on further legislation development.
Another critical point raised by Nielson is the importance of saving somebody’s life from addiction. That is not a question for people in the industry who perceive it evident to separate individuals from their dependencies. However, the idea of people being guilty of their “weaknesses” or free in choosing substances is still in the minds of many Americans. Meanwhile, according to Nielson, there are currently more overdose deaths in the U.S. than there are COVID deaths. That was a surprising and terrifying fact that I feel like everyone should know about.
For the reasons mentioned above, addicted people’s isolated, and leaving them in unsafe places is not an option. This thesis is supported by a study from Chan Carusone et al. (2019), which states that negative experience in care-seeking has a drastic impact on the likeliness of people’s recovery. Therefore, the point is to provide people with different nudging policies aimed at respectfully leading addicted people to a better life, even if it requires drug injects necessary for their survival. Especially, because, as Prichard underlines, healthcare provision to persons with dependencies brings financial benefits and represents a humanitarian issue for policymakers.
Moreover, isolating the ones with dependencies is another problem that is reflected in how people treat deviated behavior. Many still have this perception that alcoholism or drug addiction should be criminalized and removed from communities. Nielson highlights that it is critical to differentiate between a person who is abusing and a person who is seeking recovery. According to Prichard, this might be due to a personal negative experience with addicted family members or friends. However, those seeking care and healing are the ones most needing a supporting community. This is identified by Johnson et al. (2018), whose study illustrated that people entering treatment within an encouraging and compassionate surrounding are less likely to relapse. Thus, it is indeed vital to raise awareness on the issue and educate people to be more open and understanding towards those with substance use disorders.
Thus, the drug policy of one of the most developed, richest, and most powerful countries in the world is highly ambivalent. On the one hand, the decisions of individual states are very progressive even by European standards. On the other hand, repressive federal laws, almost a hundred years old, are obsolete. The U.S. is still partially driven by outdated beliefs and xenophobia in its drug legislation. At the same time, such changes as marijuana legalization, for example, might indicate an essential shift of a stigma that for a long time has been ruling in the American drug use and abuse story.
Abadinsky, H. (2017). Drug use and abuse: A comprehensive introduction (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Chan Carusone, S., Guta, A., Robinson, S., Tan, D. H., Cooper, C., O’Leary, B., de Prinse, K., Cobb, G., Upshur, R., & Strike, C. (2019). “Maybe if I stop the drugs, then maybe they’d care?”—hospital care experiences of people who use drugs. Harm Reduction Journal, 16(1). Web.
Johnson, B. R., Pagano, M. E., Lee, M. T., & Post, S. G. (2018). Alone on the inside: The impact of social isolation and helping others on AOD use and criminal activity. Youth & Society, 50(4), 529–550. Web.