16 September 2009

'Heroin' Brand is Tainted

Further to my post yesterday on the benefits of prescribing heroin, I'd today like to reflect on the language used to sell drug reforms to the public.

In the mind of the public, the name Heroin is understandably associated with many negative connotations. It is linked to property crime, prostitution, gangs and decline. Heroin is seen as the cause of society's problems. So if a reformer says, "I propose giving Heroin to Heroin addicts," the immediate reaction is hostile, and there is an uphill struggle to break down that hostility and convince people it is a good idea.

Now lets twist that sentence slightly: "I propose giving Diamorphine to Heroin addicts". It means exactly the same thing, but it sounds less worrying. We already prescribe Methadone to Heroin addicts, and Diamorphine is more effective and has fewer negative outcomes. Methadone prescription doesn't suffer from anywhere near the levels of hostility compared to Heroin Diamorphine prescription.

Of course journalists will inevitably ask, "aren't Diamorphine and Heroin the same thing?", but that depends on how you define Heroin. We can disassociate the two words by saying, "Not really. Heroin is a street drug, and the strength and purity of street drugs is variable, which is what makes it extra-dangerous. Diamorphine is a clinical drug with a fixed strength, so it doesn't suffer from these dangers." The liberal use of language can make drug reforms easier to stomach and make it politically easier for governments to adopt beneficial reforms.

Sadly it may now be too late to re-brand prescribed heroin, but using with other names for the drugs under reform could help win the propaganda-war on drug-policy. For instance, "legalise MDMA" might not sound as scary as "legalise Ecstasy".

1 comment:

Mark Reckons said...

Very good points Duncan and I will certainly bear them in mind when discussing this subject.