Violence against drug users isn’t something we enjoy thinking about, but it is a reality that plays itself out on a daily basis and it is very much worthy of our concern and attention. It may not necessarily manifest itself through physical violence though it can and has in the past. Policies are sometimes created and adopted to discriminate against minority groups, in turn jeopardizing their social mobility. Examples of this can be illustrated through the creation of the Anti-Opium Ordinance passed in in 1878 which was directed at criminalizing Chinese immigrants who had used opium traditionally and as well when looking at the current laws surrounding crack cocaine as opposed to cocaine which seek to criminalize the lower classes that are traditionally associated with the use of crack cocaine. As I sat in a criminal court room in Queens New York, last December, case after case that was presented before me dealt with nearly the same thing; an individual tracked down through racial profiling, what appeared to be an unwarranted search, charged with possession of crack cocaine, case presented as an intent to traffic. Why was this happening? Why were all of these people who demonstrated clear signs of not only poverty but mental disorders as well, being criminalized? Why were their attorneys, supposedly in charge of their legal well being, seeming so aloof? It was because of this same violence that I want to turn to. Violence against drug users, as I see it, is their denial of liberty, of a proper justice system and the permanent stain that is often left on their lives whether it be their denial into neighbouring countries or of a number of employment opportunities.
But it can take other forms as well, and whether we like to believe it or not, we may find ourselves being compliant in this oppression. I recently experienced the loss of someone I knew who was a drug user, and it was their drug of choice that created what I felt was an unfair memorialization of their lives. The drug happened to be heroin. It hurt me, and saddened me deeply to witness the judgement that was so quickly passed upon them. Things such as “it was her fault”, “well what do you expect to happen when you do heroin?” or “if she hadn’t of done it in the first place she wouldn’t have died” were all being said. This not only affected the way in which this individual was being perceived but deeply troubled the people who continued to love her and support her after she had died. As difficult as it is to navigate through such a delicate and tragic situation, I realized that there was something fundamentally wrong in these accusations. These same people who so readily placed judgement on her would not reacted in the same manner had her death occurred because she hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt, or, I will go as far as argue, driving under the influence. This individual became the drug, and her personality was stripped of any other factor in such a violent matter that it struck me as not only immoral, but as deeply rooted in the way our society reacts to drug users in general. When you alienate people because of personal issues you have with a substance, you push them further into isolation. You can cause that person to lose self-esteem and stop caring themselves in the way that everyone should care about themselves which can cause them to fall into heavier use. Addiction is already a messy and confusing world for the person who is living in it, hostility only worsens the situation.
Reserve you judgement and examine your biases. Express your worries, be clear and persistent. Offer help, support, treatment options and love. Save a life.