Terry Gorski has recently completed a trends update which he presented at the Institute for Integral Development January 29, 2004. Since my last formal update of trends forecast in 1998, stigma against people suffering from addiction and related mental health problems has become the driving force shaping future trends in addiction treatment.
The major factor contributing to stigma is the war on drugs policy which defines addiction in terms of prohibited drugs and determines that addicts are “bad people” who “need to be punished” for their use of these illicit substances. The drug war policy is rapidly forcing an integration of the culture of addiction with the criminal culture of illicit drug use.
The Drug Enforcement Agency is currently pushing the criminalization of addiction into the problem of prescription drug addiction. Alcohol, currently a celebrated drug within our culture, is being ignored and people with alcohol problems are not presenting themselves for treatment until the late, chronic stages of their disease.
The current focus on Faith-Based addition treatment is also adding to stigma. The Faith-Based initiative is inadvertently communicating that addicts are sinners, who need to repent.
The current trend in escalating stigma flies in the face of over 40 years of science-based addiction treatment in research. Addiction is a health care problem. Addicts are sick people who need treatment. Addiction is not a crime. Addicts are not bad people who need to be punished. Addiction is not a sin, and addicts are not sinners who need repentance.
This trend of returning stigma to addiction and its victims has become the major forces shaping fiscal, medical, legal, and public heath responses to addiction treatment.