Junkies, druggies, addicts, scum?
What do you call people who inject illicit drugs? How does your consultant refer to these patients? “Scum” was the preferred term of one doctor on our team. But dehumanising people in this way is a dangerous step, falling well short of professional obligations to treat all patients with care and respect. This attitude also implicitly sanctions substandard care to a group of patients who have multiple healthcare needs.
These thoughts came to me before I embarked on a medical career. In a previous life in the mid-1990s, I worked with drug users in Glasgow, interviewing them for an annual Scottish drug use and HIV study. I heard about their experiences of the healthcare system-they felt treated as second class citizens or dismissed as malingerers.
To recruit people for the study we would drive out to some of the most deprived parts of Glasgow in our “interview unit”-a small mobile