Since it is International Overdose Awareness Day and there are no events happening here in New Zealand in order to commemorate those that have lost their lives, their family and friends or to recognise the stigma that they face, i thought i would share a research project i did on Moral Panic in relation to methamphetamine and the Social Stigma that surrounds addiction across the board in New Zealand - in order to recognise this day.
Taking the Myth out of Meth
Exaggerating the impact of methamphetamine by overstating its prevalence and consequences, while downplaying its receptivity to treatment, tends to obscure its nature while heightening horrors that promote a limited and inaccurate notion of the nature of methamphetamine addiction.
This research will explain the criteria for moral panic and apply that framework to methamphetamine, and its users. This will include a description of how this moral panic may actually blind people to the plight of its users and hinder an addict’s recovery. How a change in society’s attitudes towards methamphetamine and its users could be a more effective form of prevention and treatment will also be discussed.
What is Methamphetamine?
- Methamphetamine is a class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
- A psycho stimulant of the phenethylamine and amphetamine class of psychoactive drugs.
- A Central Nervous System stimulant, it acts to increase the amounts of the neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenalin and serotonin in the central nervous system.
- Water soluble and available in crystal, powder, or pill form.
- Routes of administration are through intranasal sniffing, smoking, injection and swallowing.
A moral panic is a social condition that becomes defined as a threat to community values and whose nature is
|The New Zealand Herald May 12 - 14 2008|
ongoing repetition of fallacies. There are five criteria that are essential to moral panic.
The first sign of a moral panic is a heightened level of concern about an issue.
Since July 2006 The NZ Herald have published at least 1000 articles with the terms Methamphetamine or P in the title. Since June 2000 Stuff.co.nz or Fairfax Media have published over 1700 articles with the terms Methamphetamine or P in the title. In one week in May 2008 the NZ Herald published 12 articles in relation to methamphetamine.
Five of those articles were opinion pieces or editorials in relation to the “War on P”.
Hostility is the second sign of moral panic. Despite amphetamines being used for over a century to treat ailments such as narcolepsy, ADHD and obesity, the distinction between who uses meth as opposed to who uses amphetamines has been determined by a media interpretation of meth users.
Popular descriptors of a meth addict are: Crack head, P freak, Meth Head, Fiend, Tweaker...
|"P is for losers" ~ Marijuana users.|
Disproportionality whereby methamphetamine is seen as an epidemic while the harm attributed to other drugs is minimised. The alleged addictive quality of meth is a central element of the disproportionality of the claims (Armstrong, 2007).
“People are talking about P, the drug epidemic that is going to steal our children, fry our brains, hollow out Kiwi society from the inside”(Fairfax Media, 2008).
“The drug is so addictive even trying it once could lead to you becoming hooked” (Te Rangi Maniapoto, Police Maori Liason Officer, 2008).
"P's dangerous, it's devastatingly addictive, it leads to violence and it destroys lives,“ (John Key, 2008).
“It is brutal, a demon of a drug” (Mike Sabin, 2008).
”It is the most addictive drug any generation has had to deal with” (Paul Holmes, 2009)
“This deceptive and very addictive drug has no social boundaries. It is the modern day plague” (The Stellar Trust, 2009).
“P is a seriously addictive, viciously destructive drug” ( John Key, 2009 ).
“The rising price of methamphetamine, or P, shows a crackdown on the drug is working” (John Key, 2011).
The Politics of Fear
While privately Richard Nixon recognised that drug treatment was more effective than law enforcement, in the lead up to the 1972 election he turned to crime fighting rhetoric in order to boost his polls.
National’s 2008 campaign promises in relation to waging a “War on P” in NZ, as reported by the Dominion Post in May 2008:
- National would give police and local authorities greater powers to storm gang fortifications and run surveillance operations to crack down on P.
- Make it illegal to be a member of a criminal organisation.
- Courts would be given greater sentencing powers relating to gang members and the Sentencing Act would be amended so gang membership became an aggravating factor in sentencing.
- National would also look at banning P dealers and manufacturers from having the right to electronic bail or home detention.
- Combat the drug P by banning its main ingredient, pseudoephedrine, from use in over-the-counter cold and flu tablets.
These beds were never filled, which brings me to my next topic.
What is Social Stigma?
Stigma marks an individual as being different, and those differences are linked to undesirable characteristics of the person ( Jones, E, et al.1984). Several illnesses such as epilepsy, cancer, tuberculosis, obesity, HIV=AIDS, and mental illness, have been studied due to their stigmatizing nature. Stigma results in discrimination, rejection, ostracism, ridicule, prejudice, discounting, and discrediting of stigmatized individuals.
In one study of the stigma associated with drug addiction, the term ‘‘drug addict’’ evoked images of disoriented, unhealthy, thin, and low-class individuals with behavioural problems. In another study of public attitudes toward individuals who use illicit drugs, drug users were viewed as dangerous, unpredictable, and difficult to communicate with (Semple et al., 2005).
3 Components of the Stigmatization Process
- Culturally induced expectations of rejection is the first dimension of stigma. The addict experiences expectations of rejection, being devalued, and perceived as less worthy because they are identifiable by a particular characteristic (e.g., their drug use or mental illness). This type of stigma can occur without ever having experienced direct mistreatment by others.
- Experiences of rejection represent the second dimension of stigma. Studies of drug users have reported rejection and discrimination in the workplace and in personal relationships with family and friends.
- The consequence of expectations and experiences of rejection is the third dimension. Individuals will develop coping strategies for managing the threat of stigmatization. Most drug users manage stigma by being secretive. Other coping strategies for managing stigma involve seeking social support from individuals who are sympathetic and /or share the stigma (fellow drug users). They will distance themselves from their non drug using family and friends and are less likely to seek treatment for fear of being labelled a “drug addict” (Link et al., as cited by Semple et al., 2005).
While public stigma is one part of the stigma issue, some people also learn to self-stigmatise where by they believe the stereotypes and internalize the reactions of society (Crocker et al., 1998; Fortney et al., 2004).
Effects of self-stigma include:
- Reductions in self-esteem
- Reduced self-efficacy
- Reduced feelings of self-worth
To argue that the addictive nature and destructive consequences of methamphetamine have been overblown is not to argue that the drug is harmless. However, any discussion of effective strategies to treat methamphetamine addiction requires an honest and straightforward discussion of facts.
Methamphetamine is not instantly addictive for most people who use it. Not everyone that uses methamphetamine goes on to become addicted. Individuals differ substantially in regards to the quantity of use or time frame that it takes to become addicted (Leshner, 2001).
Far from untreatable, treatment for methamphetamine addiction is similar to that for cocaine and other stimulants and just as likely to succeed. There is also evidence that meth users respond as well to treatment as most other clients. Meth users had treatment durations and completion rates that were comparable to users of most other drugs (Brecht, Urada, 2011).
According to the most recent National Drug Use in NZ Survey Methamphetamine abuse has remained the
same or stable and is not on the rise.
The idea that meth is a new drug is fundamentally flawed and has activated a set of social responses that have a harsh impact on those designated as meth users.
Amphetamine was ﬁrst synthesized in Germany in 1887. Methamphetamine was discovered in Japan in 1919. By 1943, both drugs were widely available to treat a range of disorders, including narcolepsy, depression, obesity, alcoholism and the behavioural syndrome called minimal brain dysfunction, known today as attention deﬁcit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). During World War II amphetamine was widely used to keep combat duty soldiers alert.
The earliest cases of clandestine manufacturing of amphetamine and methamphetamine were discovered in 1963.
Is P an Epidemic?
The term epidemic refers to a large number of people who have been infected with a disease, either in a community or more broadly. The term epidemic is emotionally loaded and lacks precision. Epidemic and scourge are judgment calls. There is no magic number of users above which we say there is an epidemic and below which we say there is none.
Because methamphetamine use is illegal - users, manufacturers, and distributors have strong incentives to hide their behaviour. This means the nature and extent of the problem are difficult to measure. The absence of any concrete data about the problem makes it easy to either exaggerate or diminish the impact of the drug on society (Weisheit, 2009).
De-stigmatising Methamphetamine Addiction
One of the causes of social stigma in relation to any addiction is the perception that addiction is caused by making bad choices. It is seen as a moral weakness, associated with loss of control and lack of willpower.
The attribution–emotion model of stigmatisation suggests that because addicts are perceived as having brought their problems on themselves or as criminals, they are more likely to elicit a reaction of anger or irritation from others than someone who has no control of the onset of stigma, for example in the case of physical disability (Lavack, 2007).
While an addiction may begin as a voluntary decision to try a drug, by the time a person reaches the point of problematic use or dependence, the drug use is no longer voluntary and has been characterised as a brain disorder (Leshner, 2001).
Social Marketing to De-stigmatise Methamphetamine and Addiction
One example of the effectiveness of social marketing in New Zealand has been the Ministry of Health’s campaign fronted by John Kirwan in relation to depression. The ads have been running off and on since October 2006 and have contributed to reduced stigma in relation to mental illness, people recognising signs and symptoms of depression in themselves and others, and have prompted them to seek help.
The Four Ps of Social Marketing
Product: The Product in this instance would be the understanding of how the stigma of methamphetamine and addiction affects our society. The objective would be to convince consumers (society) that it would be to their benefit to change their attitudes towards addiction.
Price: The price refers to the cost to society of giving up their pre conceived ideas regarding methamphetamine addiction. People must be shown the benefits of living in a society where addicts are unafraid to seek treatment, because they do not fear being confronted with an embarrassing stigma.
Place: This refers to methods used to reach people with the information or message that we want to share. The public can be reached with messages in various ways including the media, face-to-face interaction at community meetings, through posters in doctors’ offices, health clinics, and schools.
Promotion: This involves the utilisation of tools such as advertising, public relations, media advocacy, and personal selling. In the case of de-stigmatising addiction, communication would focus on creating awareness of problems associated with the stigma associated with addiction, and persuading the public that society would be improved by the removal of that stigma (Lavack, 2007).
How Can We Reduce Stigma and Promote Recovery?
- Through improved public awareness of the scientific realities of methamphetamine addiction.
- By encouraging people with drug problems to seek help early in the progression of their illness, when it is most treatable.
- Creative campaigns to erase myths and stereotypes and to raise awareness about the realities of methamphetamine addiction and recovery.
- Education and teaching people that addiction is an illness, not a moral failing.
- Dispelling the sense of hopelessness that is currently attached to methamphetamine addiction by promoting the fact that people who have been addicted to methamphetamine have successfully recovered and now lead healthy and productive lives.