The current challenge with drug education and expert knowledge is that our industry holds in higher regard people who have been wholly unsuccessful at drug use — the “I have had to succumb to sobriety for your and my safety” group, instead of those who have and/or can use drugs successfully without disruption of their life.
There is no other profession that would promote those who are unable to do something as an expert.
Can you imagine Canada’s worst driver being promoted as an expert at a driving school or someone who has done federal time for violence in relationships being the most appropriate person to teach respectful relationships?
But this is exactly what the so-called substance-use profession does.
The challenge for me, and one of the main flaws in our current ideology, is that you have to have been there to understand.
By “being there,” the presumption is that drugs caused you much harm. Having experience does give one an advantage, especially with stigmatized behaviours.
But when are we going to be able to have “drug experts” actually be those who can use drugs successfully?
This is to take nothing away from the recovery movement and those who have chosen abstinence. Indeed, the recovery movement plays a crucial part in the advancement of healing from substance misuse issues.
But those who hang a shingle out and have their “expertness” in some way related to their inability to manage their substance use only perpetuates the negative treatment of people who use substances.
It is also a gross misrepresentation of substance use among the general population and creates a barrier for those to reach out and access services.
A current example is that, in an opioid crisis, the main group of people overdosing are working tradesmen. Their biggest problem is a poisoned supply and not necessarily their use pattern.
Only when we discontinue criminalizing health behaviours and move substance use from a criminal approach to a public health viewpoint will we start seeing significant positive outcomes in substance-use issues.
Stigma and treatment will never be successfully dealt with until we, at minimal, decriminalize all drugs and acknowledge most folks have positive experiences with drugs that don’t negatively affect work or home.
This move will also allow for experts being those who have good relationships with substances they use.
I have a counselling and health-education practice in Kamloops and have 20 years of experience in the mental-health and substance-use field.