As users, we are written about and talked about by almost everyone in the world at some time. People talk about us and have beliefs about us in their everyday conversations, politicians condemn us for political gain, the media uses us for news stories, we are scapegoats in every strata of society.
Everyone has an opinion about people who use drugs, or more usually junkies. We have opinions about us too, and we play many roles in our lives. We play a role for our friends, our peers, our families, our doctors, our work, and we often have many different personas. Some of us conform to the “junkie stereotype”, some of us don’t, and we have conversations about language all the time as well. When is it acceptable to talk about “junkies”? Who is allowed to use certain words? Who gets to have an opinion?
I think it’s important to have these conversations. Language is important. It’s important to acknowledge the different roles we play in society, and it is important to challenge ideas that are wrong, particularly stereotypes.
Harm reduction – AKA, saving us so we can get clean and become part of the community again
There are many people who support harm reduction because they believe we need to be “kept alive” until we get through this pesky phase of our lives and stop using. Why should we stop using? Do they demand anyone who uses alcohol stop drinking? Granted, they don’t like Aborigines who drink in public, or violent drunks, or people who have brown paper bags of cheap alcohol and sleep on park benches. They don’t like the visible and unpleasant sides of alcohol use. but they don’t like any side of opiate use that isn’t medical. Any non-medical opiate use is considered problematic regardless of the many people who hold down jobs, raise beautiful kids, do all the things “normal” people do when they are also using heroin or other opiates.
Like it or not, we are already part of the community. We are, in fact, quite a big part of it. for those of us who can, we manage to hide our drug use from most people while we go about our daily business working, volunteering, looking after our families and friends, studying, etc, etc. We are part of the community and drug use does not put us outside it. We do our bit along with everyone else. those of us who have jobs contribute our taxes the same as anyone else. most of the rest of our money might go towards keeping ‘criminals’ in business rather than to keeping the capitalist economy alive and business in profit, but that’s not our choice. If they would legalise drugs we’d happily (or not so happily) pay what would probably be the exorbitant taxes they would put on our drugs of choice along with the exorbitant taxes we already pay for our cigarettes. We are as valuable a part of the community as everyone else.
It’s true that there are some illicit drug users who also get involved in crime or who don’t have jobs or families. There might be very good reasons for that. Once you are known as a user, for example, it’s pretty hard to catch a break. The cops target you, prison records or long periods without work make it harder to get a job, visible homelessness or sickness that sometimes comes with using, particularly if you don’t want to or can’t get on a opioid substitute program, all these things result in making life harder. But so what? Capitalism actually needs the unemployed. We need some people to be on the dole or our economy would actually collapse. Wages would be skyrocket and small business would be priced out of the market. So those of us who are most vilified by the ‘respectable’ parts of society, that is, the middle class, educated and fully employed and the independently wealthy, are actually playing an extremely important role keeping those people in wealth.
And don’t we also need the visible stereotypes to keep all those smug middle class citizens feeling good about themselves? After all, wouldn’t the world be a much worse place if we didn’t exist? Who would they blame for the petty crimes and muggings and break-ins if it weren’t for us? Who could be the scapegoats for the things that go wrong in general society? Who would they spit on when they wanted to “clean up the streets” and get re-elected? And how would they be able to look at themselves in the mirror having refused to give money to desperate people on the streets time after time when their wallets are full and they spend so much money on useless things that don’t make them happy if they couldn’t justify their miserliness with all the cliches they tell themselves – “I worked hard for this money, go and get a real job, beggar” or “they’d only spend it on drugs anyway”.
The people who fulfill the stereotypes give the inner cities the local “colour” that makes those upwardly mobile people want to move there, anyway. Why else would places like Kings Cross and Redfern and St. Kilda have skyrocketing house prices and gentrified local shopping that make it impossible for the locals in the high-rises to use their local grocery store or walk down the street without being searched by the cops. We were there first, then the people who hate us decided it was cool to live there and moved in and tried to kick us out. We made those places cool. You should be thanking us. Then you should bugger off back to the suburbs. And next time, it would be good manners to put a gold coin in the cap, thank you very much.