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LETTER: Let’s change the language around addiction

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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 fentanyl and the dangers associated. The warning was needed and helpful. However, one word should not have been there.

“Addicts are advised …”

This is unfortunate wording to be used in a public press release. 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, this separates the person from their condition.

Those writing for media or press releases have a responsibility to avoid stigmatized language. Journalists and PR 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 we are realizing that it feeds a narrative that has long term systemic consequences for people who use substances.

Yes there are people that self-identify as addicts and other terms of the sort, and often by owning these labels this is the first step to recovery for them. Nonetheless, there is a substantial difference between labelling oneself and being labelled by the Police. The improved way to have written that sentence would have been to say “People who are using fentanyl…”

As Ruther Derksen, a former English professor who specializes in the philosophy of language at the UBC 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.”

Nathan Colquhoun, 


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