Fear of being judged perpetuates drug problems, experts warn

By THOMAS BAILEY

Drug users need more encouragement to seek help when needed, says Ambulance Victoria paramedic Tiernan Bushby*. 

“A lot of times, three or four people will hit up with heroin, one person will have a bad reaction, the other three are worried about getting into trouble so they won’t call,” he said. 

Mr Bushby said society needed to provide less judgment and more encouragement. 

“Rather than saying to someone, ‘no don’t do it’, maybe it should be,’ do you still want to do this, I think there’s better ways to do this, how can we help you to kick that habit?’” 

Mr Bushby said fear of judgment could have dangerous health effects on patients who had overdosed. 

“No one wants to be judged so if you’re stopping someone from calling you for help, that person might die next time.” 

Alcohol and Drug Foundation spokeswoman Laura Bajurny said stigma associated with drug use stopped people from having a conversation with loved ones about their issues. 

“Stigma is a major barrier to seeking help,” she said.

Ms Bajurny said the problem was not limited to drug-users.

“Moral panic is a barrier to measured policy-making,” she said. “We can’t think clearly when we’re scared.”

Ms Bajurny criticised media organisations that ran sensationalised headlines about drugs and alcohol.

 “Headlines like this are problematic for people in my field because it creates that moral panic,” she said. 

The National Drug Strategy 2017-2026 emphasises that policy responses should not marginalise or stigmatise people at risk. 

The strategy suggested “improving community understanding and knowledge, reducing stigma and promoting help-seeking”.

 Mr Bushby supported harm minimisation strategies, including Victoria’s recently opened medically supervised injecting room. 

“If it makes it safer, it makes it safer,” he said. 

Note: Mr Bushby was not speaking on behalf of Ambulance Victoria.