Summary and Conclusions
The Justice Analytical Services Division of the Scottish Government commissioned this survey to investigate the extent and nature of stigma among the Scottish general public towards people with drug dependence and people who have recovered from drug dependence. This is vital because positive attitudes towards such people within society means that they have a stronger prospect of recovery from their addiction, and are ultimately more likely to integrate fully into the community.
The survey showed that one fifth of the sample had ever used recreational drugs, and 3% have ever been dependent on drugs. A further 50% of respondents reported they know someone who has used recreational drugs, and 37% know someone who had ever been dependent on drugs. This indicates that the majority of the Scottish adult population (69%) has had direct or indirect experience of recreational drug use, whilst just less than one third (30%) have had direct or indirect experience of drug dependence.
The majority of respondents were found to have sympathy and understanding towards people with drug related issues, with many agreeing with statements asserting that drug dependence is an illness, that people with a history of drug dependence are demonised in the media, and that we have a responsibility to provide the best possible care for people with drug dependence.
There was also widespread agreement that people recovering from drug dependence should be part of the community and have the same rights to a job as anyone else. Furthermore, there was an understanding that drug dependence is something that can affect virtually anyone.
However, whilst many respondents demonstrated empathy towards people with a history of drug dependence, there is also a significant proportion of the population who feel that people with drug issues have responsibility for their own situation, and that they have it within their power to overcome their problems should they want to. For example, a significant minority of people agreed that one of the main causes of drug dependence is a lack of self-discipline and willpower (42% agreed) and that if they wanted to stop using they could do so (38% agreed).
It is also important to note that when asked about how they felt about more personal interaction with people with a history of drug dependence, many expressed concern. For example, more people agreed than disagreed that they would not want to live next door to someone who has been dependent on drugs, whilst more people disagreed than agreed that residents have nothing to fear from people coming into their neighbourhood to obtain drug treatment services. The findings therefore indicate that the majority of the Scottish population has a tolerant and sympathetic attitude towards people who have experienced drug dependence, when asked to consider it at an abstract level; however, when asked to consider how they would feel personally about welcoming such people into their community, attitudes were more mixed.
There was a consistent pattern of response across the demographic profile of the sample, with younger respondents, those within the AB C1 socio-economic groups and women more likely to state sympathetic and positive views towards people with a history of drug dependence and those in recovery than older respondents, ( C2 DEs) and men. As might be expected, the more experience people have had with drugs, either recreational drugs or with drug dependence, the more sympathetic their views and opinions were.
This omnibus survey will serve as a robust baseline against which future studies can be compared. The findings from this research will also be used by the Scottish Government to inform an effective and proportionate response to the problem of stigma towards drug users in Scotland.