Letter: In praise of stigma

Graphic by Lori Deaton

One of the drawbacks of living in a free society is nature’s unrelenting requirement that we balance liberties with responsibilities. Asheville has a love affair with the former, while it shuns the latter.

There are many examples, but none stand out more than our full-throttle drug culture. For a view into the dark soul of that crooked enterprise, look no further than the impact of opiates.

We live in a time when three times more people are killed by opiates than drunk drivers — yet we still wink at users and dealers with remarkable tolerance.

Our approach to treatment is equally misguided, and though no one is really willing to talk about it, our intervention rate is abysmal. That’s partially because we’re stuck on a dated “one size fits all” disease model that is remarkable for is uselessness.

Any hope of treatment success necessitates a comprehensive model that overdoses participants with personal accountability. That takes courage, realism and dedication — all of which are in short supply among a community of handwringers.

Painting addicts as innocent, powerless victims is enabling — not loving.

Those looking for a starting place for countering the harms of our drug culture might consider the word “stigma.” There should be massive stigma associated with selling or misusing opiates and other drugs for the same reason there is stigma associated with beating one’s wife; murder; molesting children; driving under the influence; misusing starlets; or — in Asheville — being a conservative.

Without stigma there is no accountability. Without accountability, we will forever be chasing the tails of relapsed and newly recruited addicts.

Accountability reconsideration is not in our future. In our naiveté, the truly innocent and powerless — children, families, social workers, health care providers, employers and crime victims — will continue to suffer our permissiveness.

It’s just too easy to look away — and simply wring our hands when we can’t.

— Carl Mumpower
Clinical psychologist


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2 thoughts on “Letter: In praise of stigma

  1. luther blissett

    Opioid abuse is more prevalent in the county than the city, and higher in the rural counties of WNC than Buncombe; it’s also more prevalent among over-50s than younger people. The insinuation that cultural tolerance or permissiveness drives the abuse of prescription narcotics doesn’t stand up. The typical communities ravaged by the opioid epidemic are small, rural, tight-knit and small-c conservative. Dr Mumpower ought to take his sermon against “handwringing” to Marshall or Marion, where those affected are not anonymous “drug addicts” but friends and family.

    Perhaps look instead at a culture that works people beyond the point of injury and a broken health care system that focused for too long on numbing the pain: as a practising health professional, Dr M will be aware that in-person therapy for both physical and mental ailments is expensive and time-consuming, rationed by insurance and with providers often in short supply, while pills are cheap and fast and hang around in people’s cabinets, even if the externalities are costly.

    “Without stigma there is no accountability.”

    This is a more solid point. The Sackler family has profited mightily from lying about the effectiveness of its products and dumping them in huge quantities in small communities, without much accountability. Only now are the museums and galleries they endowed facing stigma and protests. Look also at the de facto leader of America’s conservatives, who has avoided accountability his entire life, but likes the idea of death squads for drug dealers like the ones in the Philippines.

  2. BMacAVL

    They push a war on drugs that has done nothing but bring more drugs/guns/violence than we had before, they take massive bribes from Big Pharma without even considering what may happen to our culture before approving highly addictive substances and allowing mass distribution, then at the same time lie to citizens about going to war over weapons of mass destruction but in reality only wanted to have full control and monopolize of the worlds trade of a commodity in the name of Operation Enduring Freedom!

    Then we have the billion dollar privatized prison system where folks are making fortunes(kinda like big pharma and government officials off lobbyist) off the suffering of innocent children, teenagers, young professionals, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents….who’s teens, parents, children, aunts and uncles are locked in cages like animals for using a substance they originally obtained through legal means from a trained and educated medical professional. Then you have #45 praising version of modern genocide on folks who use substance to work and live. The irony is sad and

    So pointing the finger at one side or the other(or as Cartman and Kyle put it when they had opposing ideas for a school mascot on South Park; giant douche vs. turd sandwich) is just perpetuating the hate, rather than building up the “courage, realism and dedication” core values you mentioned, that it will take to stand up to the broken system and the unworthy leadership we see each and everyday in both DC, along with every state, county, and city capital building in our country.

    The real “stigma” is programmed trust in elected officials, mixed with following the media with utterly blind faith, paired with the constant fighting back and forth that one government is good and around to protect citizens but the other side is terrible and shouldn’t be trusted. WAKE UP, it is the same entity creating this buzz that enslaves so many educated genuinely smart people and uneducated masses of citizens stuck in a specific premeditated skewed version of reality.

    This special group of lazy, greedy, non-talented folks leaching that system is not just part of the problem but THE BIGGEST PROBLEM. All the while they lock up millions to keep the status quo in check while they themselves are the worst criminals on the planet, who would gladly sellout in the name of GREED and Self. Why not start with respecting, loving and holding yourself accountable for your own beliefs and methodology for choosing right vs. wrong or good vs. evil?

    Only when the majority of our population sees and excepts such truth, and condemns the lies we are fed, will we see change. This starts with us, the individual seeking truth paired with securing freedom/justice for all humans, then we make a conscious decision to ask the tough questions and only vote for those free-thinking, non-party affiliated, loving, selfless and accountable citizens into any position of power. Only then we may begin to find solutions for those enslaved and caught in the so-called “full-throttle drug culture” who in reality may only be trying to escape from the pain our culture and society witnesses each day.

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