Language matters and it starts with us: How to talk about drugs to advocate for reform more effectively
An ongoing challenge for the alcohol and other drug (AOD) sector is stigma surrounding drug use. Stigma perpetuates feelings of shame and creates barriers to accessing health care and economic support. The concepts of ‘values’ and ‘framing’ will be explored within the context of conversations about drug use and findings from ‘messaging’ research conducted by Common Cause Australia in 2020-21 presented. Guidance on how to reduce drug stigma in public AOD advocacy through language will also be presented.
Contemporary Australian research on messaging and drug stigma involving mixed methods: 1) Nation-wide frames analysis of publications on drugs (media, political debate, social media); 2) in-depth qualitative interviews; and 3) survey of 1400 Australians.
Messaging framed with intrinsic values such as social justice and equality, rather than extrinsic values such as security and authority is far more likely to be persuasive. Triggering security values produces an individualistic rather than universal response hindering support for drug policy reform. Framing messages from the perspective of a crisis, ‘harm reduction reduces crime’, or the ‘war on drugs’ triggers peoples’ fear and security values, moving them further away from empathy and support for policy reform. Specific examples will be provided of how to use language more effectively and how language can be strategically shifted to elicit more positive responses from non-traditional supporters of AOD reforms.
Appropriate public messaging is essential in making a positive impact on drug policy and improved access for people who use drugs. We need to connect with peoples’ intrinsic values when talking about drugs to gain further support for drug law reform.