The stigma associated with drug use and addiction has manifested itself in discriminatory policies that exclude people who use drugs or have drug convictions from many of the rights and opportunities many Americans take for granted.
Although drug use and addiction pervade all categories of race, gender, class, and age, sensationalized media coverage of drug use has resulted in a popular but inhuman caricature of the typical drug user or addict.
Pervasive media portrayals that demonize people who use drugs have spawned policies that systematically discriminate against drug users. The taboo associated with drug use is so widespread that even many people who support drug policy reform hold negative assumptions about people whose drug use they consider abusive.
One of DPA’s highest priorities is to end discrimination against all drug users by reducing the stigma associated with drug use and advocating compassionate, judgment-free approaches to addiction and incarceration.
Mandatory drug testing by employers, schools and hospitals is widely used to exclude those who test positive from job opportunities, student financial aid and public benefits. Positive drug tests are even used to prosecute and jail pregnant women suspected of substance use or to send parolees back to prison, regardless of their underlying offense or history of drug misuse.
Drug testing has become a tool of discrimination, and DPA has been involved in a variety of legal challenges to expansive drug testing policies and unreliable drug testing technologies.
Even among those who use drugs, some are more severely ostracized than others. Not all drugs are created equal when it comes to stigmatization, but often the assumptions that lead us to view certain substances or substance use behaviors as more harmful or immoral than others stem from misinformation.
In the 1980s and 1990s, for instance, sensational media stories and political rhetoric about crack cocaine led to the widespread condemnation of “crackheads” and “crack mothers” and the draconian, racially discriminatory sentencing laws that we are still fighting to correct today.
DPA advocates for compassionate, evidence-based policies shaped by scientific fact, not fear and hyperbole. By advocating for honest and accurate public education about drugs and addiction, we hope to lift the stigma associated with drug use and to end the cycle of discrimination perpetuated by the war on drugs.