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Social Stigma Can Make Cause Drug Relapse and Re-Incarceration

A new research found that the policies that are supposed to reduce the prevalence of drug use are eliciting the opposite effects. Instead of making users quit, the difficult life that convicted drug addicts lead is actually causing them to go back to their habits thereby leading to “a vicious spiral of drug use and incarceration.” The findings of the said study were published in BioMed Central’s journal, Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy and are available for free access. They revealed how making services and opportunities inaccessible can increase the chances of a drug user to experience a relapse, drug-related criminal activity and incarceration as an end-result.

The study was conducted by a team headed by Juliana van Olphen from the San Francisco State University. The team conducted focus-group discussions and semi-structured interviews with 17 female drug users who have just been released from prison. “After carrying out this research,” van Olphen says, “our conclusion was that punitive drug and social policies related to employment, housing, education, welfare and mental health and substance abuse treatment make it extremely difficult for users and former users to live a normal life and reintegrate into society.”

The authors of the study referred to such policies as evicting first-time drug offenders from public housing and depriving them of food stamps as hindrances to an individual’s ability to get her life back on track. “These policies have adversely and disproportionately affected women, especially poor women, ruining their chances of finding employment, housing or education upon release,” says van Olphen.

During one of the study’s interviews, one participant said that having a history of conviction has made her ineligible for certain things. Because she found it too demeaning to be a prostitute as she was also a victim of multiple counts of rape, she decided to just sell drugs. She went back to her previous habits to sustain her daily needs, pay the rent and survive. “It’s not like I sold drugs to become a rich person or anything,” she said. “I sold drugs to pay my rent. I paid it. I lived in a room that was $50 a day, which was $1,500 a month.”

The team found that the double stigma of being previously incarcerated and being an addict is the core of the problem that the female respondents have to face. Stigmas are supposed to keep people from using drugs. You don’t want to use drugs because you will be ostracized by the society. But the study found that the opposite was in fact true. The stigma of drug use as well as incarceration is what makes life difficult for recovering addicts.

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