By Sarah Perrina, Karine Bertrand, & Emmanuel Langlois
The drug user and the drug dealer are figures that are stereotyped and stigmatized in our collective representations, linked to crime and disease (Askew & Salinas, 2018; Sattler et al., 2017). Stigma is considered here as the result of a “stereotypical and overall damaging process” (Corrigan & Wassel, 2008) leading to a relationship between oneself, others and the social structure that includes reductive labeling, loss of status and discrimination (Link & Phelan, 2001). As Smith et al. (2016) said: “The structural and social stigma associated with substance use is experienced by individuals as enacted, anticipated and internalized stigma”.
Thus, the drug user is linked to the figure of the junky: dependent, marginalized, unable to control himself, a drug slave, prone to delinquency (Radcliffe & Stevens, 2008). The drug dealer is considered as dangerous and violent, interested only in profit to the detriment of the health of his clients (Coomber, Moyle & South, 2016; Taylor & Potter, 2013). The identities of drug users and sellers are therefore spoiled identities (Neale, Nettleton & Pickering, 2011), and this stigma is one of the consequences of the reductionist discourse on drugs that dominates in public policy and the media today (Taylor, 2008). Among other things, this reductionist discourse involves an othering and sca- pegoating process which aims to define drug users and sellers as de- viant, violent and problematic strangers threatening social balance.
However, as Taylor (2016) pointed out, “by focussing on this minority of ‘problematic ’users we concentrate on a group of seemingly desperate individuals who take no pleasure from their addiction”. The vast majority of drug uses and sales do not correspond to the description given by this reductionist discourse (Taylor, Buchanan & Ayres, 2016). In fact, most drug uses are recreational and do not have dramatic consequences (Askew, 2016). The use of certain substances such as cannabis has become largely normalized, and in certain friendship and cultural networks, the recreational uses of drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines are considered commonplace (Askew & Salinas, 2018). The literature on social supply has shown that with the normalization of drug uses, some ways of selling drugs have also become common (Coomber et al., 2016; Taylor & Potter, 2013). However, the media, public policies and research organizations, for funding reasons among others, have de facto essentially focused on the populations of drug users and drug dealers targeted by the othering and scapegoating process (Askew, 2016; Askew & Salinas, 2018; Taylor, 2016). These populations are also those found among those arrested for drug use or drug dealing by the police or in addiction treatment centers.