Organizations in Scotland are being warned that they need to use positive language instead of words such as ‘addicts’ or ‘alcoholics’, to address Scotland’s growing drug problem.

The Scottish Nationalist Party trumpeted the changes as part of ‘hard-hitting’ new campaign backed by Nicola Sturgeon and her drugs minister Angela Constance.

Under a new charter to eliminate prejudices, terms such as “alcoholic”, “junkie”, and even “substance abuse” will be rewritten. This is to help those who are suffering from low self-esteem or poor mental health.

The Scottish Government, funded by taxpayers, will replace the words “person with problematic substance usage” on billboards, newspaper ads, and TV commercials as part of its latest attempt to reduce the nation’s drug death rates. 

Campaigners were not happy with the changes, and argued that there was an overall lack of support services for addicts. 

In Scotland, drug-related death rates reached their highest point in records since 2005. 1,339 deaths were linked to drugs last year. This cements Scotland’s status as Europe’s leading nation for the manufacture and distribution of narcotics. 

Scotland's new 'stigma charter' that seeks to ban phrases like 'addict, alcoholic and junkie'

Funded by the taxpayer, the Scottish Government will instead plaster terms such as 'person with problematic substance use' across billboards, newspapers and television adverts

To help combat the country’s current drug crisis, organizations in Scotland were warned to replace terms like “addict” and “alcoholic” with positive language.

Drug-related deaths in Scotland reached their highest point since records began as 1,339 fatalities were linked to narcotics last year, cementing the nation's place as the drugs death capital of Europe. Pictured: Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting (1996)

The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland rose to their highest level since records started. Last year saw 1,339 people die from narcotics related causes, consolidating the country’s position as Europe’s leading drugs death capital. Pictured by Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting (1996)

This new campaign was launched Monday. It aims to highlight addiction as a condition of health after Ms Constance said that prejudice stopped addicts getting help.

She advocated for the wide-ranging changes in rhetoric. Her argument was that people with drug dependence’should be supported and not judged’. 

The Drugs Death Taskforce of Scotland created a brand new “stigma chart” to help charities, businesses, and other community organizations when they refer to substance abusers. 

The SNP is making a desperate attempt to reduce its staggering drug death rate. According to the most recent figures, it stands at 3 1/2 times the UK’s level.

It is believed that more than 10,000 people have been killed by drugs since 14 years ago when the political party was elected to power. 

A screenshot from Scotland's NHS inform webpage (pictured) shows a suggested list of appropriate terms when discussing alcohol and drug addiction

The following screenshot is taken from Scotland’s NHS Inform webpage. It shows an example of a list of terms that are appropriate for discussing drug and alcohol addiction.

The Scottish Nationalist Party trumpeted the changes as part of 'hard-hitting' new campaign backed by Nicola Sturgeon and her drugs minister Angela Constance (pictured)

The Scottish Nationalist Party made the announcements as part of a ‘hard hitting’ campaign backed Angela Constance and Nicola Sturgeon.

The grim toll went up 5 per cent last year, the seventh annual rise in a row, as the country continued to have the worst fatality rate in Europe

Last year’s grim statistics saw a 5% increase in deaths, marking the seventh consecutive rise. The country also continued to suffer from the most fatal European death rate.

The latest official figures for 2020 show that rates have soared among the middle-aged

According to the latest figures, rates among middle-aged people have increased by a lot in 2020. 

Ms Sturgeon was accused of presiding over 'national shame' on the drugs deaths

Ms. Sturgeon was accused by being in charge of the “national shame” surrounding drug deaths

Scottish drug deaths reached an all-time high of 1,339, the highest in Europe. This is after they had been rising steadily for seven years. 

Nicola Sturgeon was charged with presiding over a ‘national shame’ when Scotland’s drug deaths reached a record 1,339.

Last year’s grim statistics saw a 5 percent increase in deaths, marking the 7th consecutive annual increase. This was in addition to the fact that the country has the lowest fatality rate of any European country.

The rate of 21.2 deaths per 1000 people is three and a half times greater than in the UK.

Glasgow was the hardest hit region, with 291 people dying there. The opioids were responsible for 1,192 deaths.

Ms. Sturgeon, in the midst of outrage over the magnitude of the tragedy, said that it was unacceptable and that each one was an ‘human tragedy.

She insisted the Scottish Government ‘does not shirk the responsibility & we are determined to make changes that will save lives’.

In a sign that more drug users are mixing substances, benzodiazepines – use of which has soared in recent years due to easy availability – were implicated in 974 deaths in 2020.

Last year saw 973 male victims die of drug overdoses, compared to 366 for female victims.

Data showed that deprivation continues to play a significant role in drug-related deaths. People living in poverty are 18 times more likely die from overdoses than their wealthier counterparts.

Ms. Sturgeon, in response to outrage about the size of Scotland’s current narcotics crisis earlier this year, stated that she found it ‘unacceptable’. Each of its 1,339 deaths was an ‘human tragedy.

Consult at Public Health Scotland Tara Shivaji warned that Scotland faces a double-pronged threat from public health crises. This was first from Covid-19, then from ‘preventable overdose deaths’. 

However, earlier in the year Ms. Sturgeon was charged with the “de-facto criminalization” of drugs. This is despite the country’s rising death rate from narcotics.

Police officers were advised to issue only a ‘recorded police warning’ to anyone they catch in possession of illicit substances, including Class A heroin and cocaine.

SNP ministers were accused of ‘waving the white flag’ and of forcing the change through by the ‘back door’.

The previous laws saw more than 10,000 offences being prosecuted and fined each year. Recorded police warnings were introduced by the SNP government for ‘low-level offences’ in 2016. 

Tom Buchan, a former chief superintendent with now-defunct Strathclyde Police, said: ‘This is a surrender – the white flag has gone up. It will have no benefits at all and it comes in the middle of a huge drugs emergency – it’s more soft-touch nonsense.

‘I feel sorry for the officers who will have to implement this – they don’t want to be turning a blind eye to crime.

‘I don’t know who they’ve consulted on this, if anyone, but it is basically just throwing in the towel.’

Annemarie Ward, chief executive of the charity Faces and Voices of Recovery UK, told the Telegraph that although language is powerful, a more pressing issue was the ‘severe dearth of services’ available to those seeking rehabilitation.

She said, “Language can be powerful.” 

It can be detrimental to a person’s experience and lead to a culture that is blamable and shameful, or it can encourage hope and help people realize recovery is possible.

“But we in Scotland have a severe shortage of services available for people who want help with their addiction to alcohol and other drug, regardless of how they are labeled.”  

Trainspotting. Pictured from left: Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan Mcgregor, Kevin Mckidd, Ewen Bremner

In recent years, popular culture attempted to enter Scotland’s drug problem. Trainspotting (1996) became an iconic piece of cinema that captured the attention of a Scottish generation that grew up alongside drugs and alcohol abuse

Gregor Fisher starred as the Glaswegian alcoholic and anti-hero Rab C Nesbitt (pictured) in the BBC's critically acclaimed sitcom of the same name

Gregor Fisher starred (pictured) as Glaswegian alcoholic Rab C Nesbitt in BBC’s critically acclaimed sitcom.

Scottish Tories also criticised the SNP for its latest moves, saying it wasn’t helpful to ban a set of terms related to the drug debate. 

Sue Webber, Shadow Minister of Public Health for the Scottish Conservatives (MSP), stated that it was right to not stigmatize those suffering from drug or alcohol dependence issues. We want to make their lives easier and help them seek treatment.

“It’s crucial that we be careful about our words choice, but also that we can discuss these issues honestly in a way that is understandable by the public.

The drug crisis has been a topic of interest in popular culture for decades. BBC’s critically-acclaimed comedy series Rab C Nesbitt featured the Glaswegian alcoholic/anti-hero tackling addiction.

Trainspotting (1996, a film that was filmed in cinematography) became a landmark piece in cinema and emphasized the scale of the Scottish narcotics crisis.

In full, the’stigma charter’ of The Scottish Drugs Deaths Taskforce is available: 

There is evidence to show that language, attitudes, and behaviors that seem judgmental can discourage people who are able to benefit from treatment. 

Stigma has the potential to negatively affect the morale and motivation of people providing support services. Friends and family members of the at-risk can also feel stigma by association at a time they are most in need of it.

It is recognized that stigmatization could be a major contributor to drug-related deaths in Scotland. The Taskforce has released a strategy paper highlighting the options and suggesting a path forward. 

All our stakeholders are encouraged to become aware of the stigmatizing effects of stigma and to work together to make sure that every contact with support services has a positive outlook for those who use them. 

Our partners are encouraged to take action in raising awareness about stigma’s potentially fatal effects.

It is also important that media and anyone writing on substance-related issues, such as drug-related deaths, do not use stigmatizing imagery or language that causes harm. 

Instead, we support any effort to work together to create a safe space for those at risk, those in recovery, and people impacted by someone else’s substance use.

Many media outlets use images of drugged people, broken bottles, and paraphernalia as stock photos of alcohol and other drugs. However, these images can still be negative and stigmatising. 

Similarly, stigmatising language such as ‘user’ and ‘addict’ can be seen time and time again, together with terms such as ‘drug abuse’, ‘drug user’, and with people who are being interviewed are titled ‘ex-addict’ or ‘former drug abuser’.

We support the approach recommended by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, and the Scottish Recovery Consortium in their joint research programme entitled Insert Standard Stigmatising Headline & Image Here: Rewriting the Media’s Portrayal of Addiction and Recovery and the six recommendations it has for journalists and editors:  

  • Positive imagery is important 
  • Adopt people First Language 
  • Your article can be used as an educational tool 
  • Make sure to include information about support services 
  • Explore the effects of stigma on lived experiences 
  • Add more positive stories about recovery, support and living/living experiences