The phenomenon of semantic contagion is a fascinating one, and it is has been used relentlessly in propaganda measures to recalibrate thinking around fixed ideas in all sorts of arenas.
A brief (and one aspect) take on this is, a process of reframing a word, term, phrase or principle for purposes of harnessing it for another focus, other than it’s intended specificity. It is often not necessarily a blatant misuse of the term, rather a re-tasking to suit an agenda not originally meant for the term.
Harm Reduction is just such a term that has been so engaged and recalibrated over recent years.
This important Pillar of the National Drug Strategy was set in place in an attempt to reduce the burden of disease, disorder and/or death of those caught in the tyranny of drug addiction, whilst simultaneously assisting them to exit the drug use that is causing said dysfunctional states.
A useful meme employed by many proponents of this framework is, ‘You cannot rehabilitate a dead drug user.’ Again, a useful linguistic tool for a semantic contagion strategy, because whilst it is true, and using absolute and dramatic terms like ‘death’, lends a certain urgency (as it should), that is not the final agenda of the pro-drug advocate.
Of course, no Harm Reductionist who hates drugs and wants drug users off these life diminishing toxins wants a user to die. However, the pro-drug use proponent will hide behind the hijacked nomenclature of ‘preventing death’ (only one of many other life destroying harms of drug use), not for the purpose of exiting drug use and develop full humanity, instead it is to continue drug use whilst managing as many ‘harms to the high’ that can be mustered.
Again, the important Harm Reduction platform was set up to assist those current drug users, reduce the activity that is causing harm, not just the ‘harm’ of the self-destructive activity they are now – if dependant – trapped in. The intent of this was always, reduce use, reduce harm, and exit drug use.
However, this well-meaning platform, when employed by those who not only want to, by deliberate design, move into illicit drug use, but endeavour to normalize their ‘recreational’ choices, have – used semantic contagion – (among other strategies) to give their agenda some traction.
Nowhere is this more evident that with Pill Checking program promotion.
You will note there have been zero harmful incidents over the consumption of illicit substances at any music festivals for around 18 months. This is confirming at least one fact, that these events are a contagion in and of themselves for the potential of the Non-Communicable Drug Disease (NCD) of substance use. These events heighten and do not diminish both the exposure and susceptibility factors in aetiology that exacerbates this NCD.
That aside, the well-meaning agenda of the genuine Harm Reductionist, may be to
- Minimise adulterants to the illicit psychotropic toxin being courted
- Even advise of the risks of ‘uncut’ pure illicit psychotropic toxins
It is the more potent and tangible messaging of such a (if permitted by law) mechanism that undermines the other two priority pillars of the National Drug Strategy – Demand and Supply Reduction. This vehicle tacitly affirms the act of seeking out a ‘party enhancement’ substance – undermining Demand Reduction. This demand consequently only adds to the supply driver – undermining Supply Reduction. Both actively undermining these priority pillars of the National Drug Strategy.
You do not ‘extinct’ a behaviour by endorsing, equipping and enabling it. However, that no longer seems to be a focus with illicit drug use by a small, but noisy cohort. Yet in the same National Drug Strategy, the cessation focus is the only model for tobacco, and with remarkable success.
So, why is this actively avoided in the illicit drug use space? We’ll let you investigate this incongruence at your leisure.
Those permission models, particularly for punters who wants to experiment, is a green light hard to resist, especially when ‘nestled in’ among other contagions, such as peer pressure, ‘psycho-naut’ propaganda and the parochial permission of this now ‘drug law free’ arena called a Music Festival.
All of this does not eliminate the risk of drug use harm – even of the now ‘checked and permitted’ variety, if for no other reason than illicit substances are toxins and unpredictably idiosyncratic in nature and impact.
Death, whilst a drastic and instantly permanent outcome of substance use is tragic, there are other harms that can be incurred, some of which are also not only debilitating, but can be permanent; and ‘endorsement’ mechanisms that permit activities that can facilitate those harms is not good public health practice.
Governments of civil society are supposed to provide safe, healthy and productive environments for their citizens. Environments that are protective, not mere ‘risk mitigating’ spaces.
Whilst some citizens may seek to live counter to such priorities and expect to create a culture that not only undermines best health and well-being practice, but extol its ‘virtues’, they still continue to look to the same government for assistance when things go ‘pear shaped’. Often with a view to maximize their well-being whilst choosing to remain in a drug use – and a consequently self-harming – context.
Legislatively endorsed pill-checking is incongruent with best-practice health strategies and clearly current illicit drug laws. The simple mantra, ‘they’re gunna do it anyway’ has never been a credible precedent for best practice strategies, at least in an ethically focused civil society.
It is important that all the semantic texts and subtexts are investigated.
For further reading.
- Pill Checking & the National Drug Strategyow About Ecstasy Deaths
- Pill Testing: Russian Roulette as Drug Policy?
- What Every Australian Young Person Needs to Know About Ecstasy Deaths
- Why Drug Testing is a Bitter Pill to Swallow – QC Perspective
- Scoring the Pill Test
The Communications Team – Dalgarno Institute