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Words Matter! Language Statement & Reference Guide

March 2020

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The need to change our language in relation to people who use drugs has become an increasing topic of discussion, but there is still a long way to go. People who use drugs are highly diverse and their relationship with drug use takes many different forms. Current prohibitionist approaches to drug use and ‘war on drugs’ rhetoric does little to encourage language that acknowledges this diversity. Instead, it promotes and maintains negative stereotypes that construct people who use drugs as morally flawed, inferior, unreliable, and dangerous.

Language does not stand still. It is dynamic, and the language and words we use are always changing. This makes it difficult to be absolute in the way we use language. Nevertheless, there are times when certain language and words used in relation to people who use drugs can be disempowering, divisive, confusing, or give offence.

Compiled by INPUD and the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs (ANPUD), this guide aims to explain our current position on the use of language and to provide clear advice on what is acceptable to us as communities of people who use drugs. We want to encourage all people to be thoughtful about the language and words they use, and have therefore provided a reference guide that identifies stigmatising language and gives non-judgemental, strengths-based, and respectful alternatives.