Constantly demonized by the media, press and politicians, drug addicts are labelled as the dregs of humanity, unable to function within our society and personally to blame for some of society’s problems, such as the rising crime rate.
They are portrayed as a constant threat to the more vulnerable members of our society, such as the elderly, women and children. In this way, addicts are personified as a danger to our way of life, and are perceived thus by the majority of Australians. This view is inherent in society’s perception of drug addicts.
Drug-related crimes command much steeper sentences in the court system than other, comparable, criminal acts, and the offender is also punished for acts that have no impact on others, such as possession and self-administration of illicit substances.
The dysfunctional addict is punished for his crime, while the criminals and corrupt police who supply these substances, as well as functional addicts, largely go unpunished.
The system fails to differentiate between drug suppliers and drug addicts, treating both as criminals rather than treating addiction as a social or medical problem insofar as sanctions are applied. This perpetuates the belief that drug-addicts are criminals and should be punished rather than treated medically for their addicted state.
This focus on the criminal subculture and its portrayal as all that is wrong with our society has allowed our government to victimize the victim, in this case, the drug addict, and punish him/her for a perceived weakness of character, rather than look at the deeper sociological causes of the addict’s disease.
All the time I come across functionalist attitudes…
“Never trust a junkie.”
“They prey on society and young people.”
“I’d never want a junkie living near me or my kids.”
And then there’s the headlines… you know the ones I mean…
‘Junkies steal, society pays’
‘Junkie mugs old lady’
‘Junkies threaten our elderly’
‘Junkies: Society’s bane’
The popular media has added to the stigma of deviance imposed on addicts by our society, compounding the social impression of ‘dangerous drug addicts’ with sensationalistic stories of violence and drug pushing on our children and harm to vulnerable members of society.
The general public’s lack of education in drug-related matters, as evidenced in most ‘informed discussions’, ensures the current ideology regarding substance-abuse doesn’t change.
Addiction becomes a crime against society, although with no real victim apart from the addict themselves. The only crimes against others occur when the addict must gain enough money to buy a drug that is only sold on the black market by profiteers who drive the price beyond all realistic limits due to society’s prohibition of the drug, thereby perpetuating the reality of criminal addicts through the dominant policies of society itself.
The dominant hegemony defines criminality in a society at any given time, using the crime statistics as a way of keeping the rest of the population in a state of fear to reinforce control.
Drug addiction has been seen as a personal or moral weakness for too long in my opinion, and addicts have been a convenient scapegoat for deeper rooted problems and inequities within our society. Particular acts or states of being are defined as criminal, depending on the current popular views of crime and drug abuse within society, while others are ignored or considered non-criminal in nature.
The dysfunctional drug-addicted individual is always an easy target to blame for the negatives occurring within any society.
Remember… the ‘junkie’ you’re looking down your nose at is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s sister or brother, someone’s father or mother.
Someone loves them dearly, and prays every day for their recovery.
Druggies are people, too…
Sargent, M, Nilan, P, Winter, G (1997) The new sociology for Australians, Addison Wesley Longman Australia, South Melbourne Victoria