The current debate in Australia about the heroin crisis is centred on the drug, and the high cost to individuals and society of its addiction. It is an emotional debate based on fear and fuelled by myths. The picture of a junkie who is shooting up in a dirty alleyway is a potent theme in these myths. (Alcorn and Brady 1999) In the article “Heroin – the Bogyman of the Frightened ’90s”, the authors outline some of these myths and how they dominate the current debate on the heroin crisis. The article attempts to counteract the myths with the facts in an effort to place heroin use in a broader sociological context.
The mythology of a ‘junkie’ finds its origins in Grand Theories. These theories paint a broad picture based on the individual drug user as being immoral, sick or deficient in some way labelling the individual drug user as ‘bad’ or ‘deviant’. (Kellehear and Cvetkovski 1998) This view is widely held in our society at the moment. Heroin is seen a highly addictive, evil drug that preys on innocent young people. Theories that see the user as sick and drug use as a disease consider individuals as having psychological defects that compel them to resort to heroin. This can be seen in the current debate with the focus on treatments to ‘cure’ addicts.
So what is the reality of heroin and the people who use it. Heroin use is viewed only as a result of addiction but surprisingly only 15% of people who use heroin represent the stereotypical image of a junkie. The majority of those who use heroin do so recreationally and do not seek help and rarely find themselves in trouble with the police. (Alcorn and Brady 1999)
The problem with these theories is that they fail to look at the broader sociological problems such as unemployment and marginalisation of certain groups within society, particularly young people. Dr Nick Crofts states that ‘…. heroin is a symptom of marginalisation.’ (Alcorn and Brady 1999:74) Heroin is often a drug of young people, the average age of first time users has decreased to around 17 years of age. Australia has amongst the highest youth unemployment and suicide rates in the world. Heroin is primarily a pain killer perhaps used to block the pain of these troubled youths. Other factors in heroin use are low social and communal values, rebelliousness and perceptions of alienation. Those with major family conflict or separation were also at a high risk.
The current debate focuses on demonising heroin it rarely considers the life circumstances of many of those who become addicts. By focusing the drug itself we are failing to the look at the wider sociological context. While the debate continues to do this there is little chance of understanding the complexities of drug use within our society and to tackle the problems of addiction in a manner that provides long-term solutions.
ALCORN, G. and BRADY, N. (1999) ‘Heroin – the bogyman of the frightened ’90s’
The Age, 6 April 1999, p.73-75.
KELLEHEAR, A. and CVETKOVSKI, S. (1998) “Grand Theories of Drug Use,” in
Hamilton, M., Kellehear, A., and Rumbold, G. (Ed) Drug Use in Australia. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.