Sarnia Police Press Release Using Language That Is Part Of The Problem

On Dec 03, 2022 the Sarnia Police issued a tragic press release entitled “Fentanyl Overdose Deaths Continue” as a warning to highlight the gravity of the substance and the dangers associated. The goal of the release was to warn and hopefully prevent future overdoses and situations in which could go awry. It first speaks to “members of the public” to remind them of the power of the drug and that the tiniest amount can kill you. The next line says this:

“Addicts are advised to never use in places where help is not within reach, to have a friend with you, and to have a naloxone kit on hand.”

This is unfortunate wording to be used in a press release by a public institution that I think is important to highlight so it can be corrected in the future. The Associated Press that reports news to approximately 15,000 media outlets recently published the AP Stylebook in which it contends that people who use drugs shouldn’t be referred to as addicts anymore and society needs to stop using the word “addict” as a noun. According to them, what this does is separate the person from their condition.

Those writing for media or press releases have a responsibility to avoid stigmitized language. Journalists and press release writers should be trained to speak in such a way that remains neutral and avoids perpetuating language that solidifies stigma in our society.  The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders no longer lists the term addict, as institutions are realizing that it no longer is a professional term and feeds a narrative that has long term systemic consequences for people who use substances.

Yes there are people that self-identify as addicts, junkies and other terms of the sort, and often by owning these labels this is the first step to recovery.  However, there is a substantial difference between labelling oneself with a term and the press labelling groups of people with the term. The appropriate way to have written that sentence would have been to say “People who are using fentanyl…”

I know that many people find this knit picky when there are much larger problems going on because people are dying, and I understand the sentiment of that. Nevertheless, as Ruther Derksen, a former English professor who specializes in the philosophy of language at the University of British Columbia says, “Language shapes our perception and reality and the way we see the world, it’s like putting on another set of glasses and suddenly we see the world differently because the language has shifted.”

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