Last year, we published a blog piece challenging the term ‘hippy crack’. This was a media invented phrase, which had the effect of considerably exaggerating the effects of ‘laughing gas’. The scale of harms between crack and laughing gas could hardly be more pronounced.
This is hardly an isolated incident – ketamine is almost universally termed in media articles as ‘the horse tranquiliser’ when it is an anesthetic and is often used medically. It is a problem because so much information about drugs is gleaned through media reports.
In the past few weeks synthetic cannabis or ‘spice’ has been described in various publications (Mail, Metro, Mirror) as the “zombie-drug” (the Daily Mirror article involved a couple in New Zealand not UK). Even the Telegraph reporting on the relatively mundane issue of an improved system recording incidents around new psychoactive substances, said it was a, “national database of ‘zombie’ drug side effects.”
This is a discriminatory and dehumanising use of language. Certainly, strains of ‘spice’ can be very potent and act unpredictably but placing the term ‘zombie’ in headlines above images of people suffering the effects is sensational and demeaning to them as individuals.
Many ‘spice’ users are homeless and many have dependency issues. They deserve our compassion, help and some level of treatment. To point fingers and call them ‘zombies’ owes more to a Victorian showground than modern-day journalism.
People generally need reliable education about the risks of various drugs. But the ability to absorb the necessary information will never be helped by stigmatising those people affected by drugs who need our help.