Labels matter. The words we choose when we talk about people who use drugs can serve to shame and blame, and frequently reinforce negative stereotypes.
Words such as ‘druggie’, ‘crackhead’, and ‘junkie’ overlook a person’s humanity and strip people of their dignity. But labels are just one of the many ways people who use drugs experience stigma.
Stigma around drug use and the people who use them – which can result from, and be a driver of, the criminalisation of drug use – leads to discriminatory treatment in healthcare settings, including the denial of basic services that can protect someone from HIV.
People who use drugs also receive unfair treatment when it comes to housing, employment, and the criminal justice system. This further marginalises people who use drugs and discourages people from seeking support when they need it.
As a result of the stigma and barriers that people who use drugs experience, 1 in 10 new HIV transmissions occur among people who inject drugs, and this figure rises to 20% outside of Africa.
Around the world people who use drugs – particularly those who inject, who are 35 times more likely to be living with HIV than someone from the general population – are being left behind. People who use drugs lack services that can keep them safe from HIV, with just 1% of people who inject drugs worldwide having access to appropriate harm reduction services.
At the Elton John AIDS Foundation, we are committed to ensuring that people who use drugs are free from violence and criminalization, have access to relevant and effective harm reduction strategies and can rely on continued political commitment, funding, and investment to meet their health needs.
We must change damaging narratives around drug use – away from punishment and towards a public health and rights approach, reinforced with love and compassion. – Tom Brigden, People Who Use Drugs Portfolio Lead