Apology for “Narcomania”

First of all, I would like to apologize to all who consider themselves as “narcomaniacs” or are considered as such by other members of the community, for using this term further in the text. My choice of words is not accidental, rather made to emphasize how pointlessness the expression is and the value consigned to it by society, culture, state etc.

The expression “narcomaniac” derives from the word ναρκόω (narkóō, “I put to sleep”) and μανία (manía, madness, obsession), meaning madness for narcotics. The term is discriminatory and above all not simply a denotation but rather a connotative association attaching to the denotation narcomaniac the realty of an entity (a being) lower than others, more inefficient than others, a gruesome, filthy being who does not deserve to live let alone share the same societal and social values with its signifiers (non-narcomaniacs). This “added” value is attached to the drug user, in this case, similar to the act of denoting the Albanians as Shiptars (a derogatory term for an Albanian in Macedonian – trans. note). An expression not only of denotative but also connotative dimension. This places people who use drugs as individuals with a lower status, uncompleted and unevolved, excluded from social interventions without the possibility for any social and societal recuperation, with zero chances for political mobilization.

This apology is not a defence or praise of drug use, rather a simple clarification from the perspective of someone whose close family and friends, by some chances, ended up as “narcomaniacs”. The process of becoming a “narcomaniac” involves not only the person who uses drugs, rather the entire family, even society, becoming “narcomaniacs”. I have no moral prejudices and refrain from ideas condemning someone else’s behaviour. I do not believe that drug users, referred to as enjoyers by some, or sick by others (I completely disagree with this classification), should be disciplined, or monitored with certain regulations by the system.

I disagree with the proposition that one wilfully consents to being a drug user. Similarly, I disagree that there is another possible choice in a person’s life. A person does not choose his/her sex, gender, class or race. All decisions we make regarding our life or provisional decisions, are made towards choosing perspectives. Therefore, if you were born in a poor family, chances are you are going to end up poor, unless you fight tooth and nail to jump up the social and intellectual ladder, although you might end up in jail just as well. Namely, around 90% of prisoners in Macedonia and the region grew up in poor families. The same principle applies to other “given choices”, or in the words of existentialists “throwness“. If you are a woman and have an affinity towards women, but you were born in a Roma ethnic family, there is a big probability that as a woman, Roma, with lesbian affinities, you will be discriminated against on all grounds, with your future prospects being either to end up as a sex worker or in a correctional institution, prison, or even that your body would be find along the bank of a river in some town. The best case scenario is that you win the lottery and leave the country. However, there are bigger chances for a piano falling on your head in the middle of the street than leaving to live abroad. So we make our decisions based on perspectives attached to predispositions we never chose ourselves.  

In a conservative society such as ours, I associate narcomania (drug use) with a progressive action of disobedience expressed towards the current value system and legal-legislative normative. Furthermore, it is a resistance towards all archetypes of domination, looming above us like an executioner from our very first steps, but also disciplining us regarding all perspectives not supported by the dominants. These principles of domination are tailored by domination itself, always ready to prove that “the majority” is such and as such it makes all decisions. In a political context as well, the majority, according to certain democratic definitions, mostly creates policies in society, consequently morality as well, introduces new traditions and executions. As a result, the entire political, social, economic, cultural, intellectual, etc. life is organized and enforced in the contours of the majority’s needs. The majority, on the other hand, is: mostly a man, sometimes a woman, white, straight (heterosexual), educated, able to work, without disabilities, their body always prepared to face the ordeals society and community, even the state, faces. Most times he is a patriot, a believer, a member of a local or national sport fan group, he abhors weaknesses, visits the gym regularly, does exercise, has a girlfriend, children, he used to be an exemplary pupil and an average student. Everything outside this frame is seen as a quality and characteristic of weakness, of an individual’s backwardness. Imagine a situation where the majority citizens would need access to platform lifts or stair-lifts (a ramp) for the disabled who require wheelchairs to reach this equipment (ramp or lifts). In this case, the majority citizens in the society would have disabilities. The point is, since people with disabilities are a small percentage of society, their “disability” is not taken into account even in architectural-urban plans as necessary, such as are regular stairways. If the human being had the ability to fly, I suppose we wouldn’t even need stairways and lifts.     

Narcomania or drug use, is a social occurrence. Let me illustrate this with an example. Namely, imagine you are a young man from the lowest social class. Your friends, and yourself, desire to experiment, just as any other young person. You reach for drugs. Sometimes this desire multiplies. Your friends belong to a more stable social level and should they reach for addictive drugs like heroin, they would certainly not find themselves in a situation to break the law, so to speak, and unleash social agony upon themselves. However, if you take that road (which as I mentioned before wasn’t your own choice because individual decision is impossible), rehabilitation is far more difficult, yet if you continue with drug use, drugs would be difficult to find. Namely, on the one hand, the state imposes bans on drug use and production. On the other (a public secret), high-profile government representatives are always involved in illegal drug production and trading. You are a small fish in a big pond, and should you choose to produce drugs for personal use, prison is guaranteed. You are forced to buy drugs from the “licensed” dealers of politicians and civil servants. Whatever you decide, prison is guaranteed.  

Should you decide to rehabilitate, you will never be able to get rid of the stigma you have inflicted upon yourself by being a “narcomaniac”. Namely, no one will hang out with you, or employ you, or even want you for a son-in-law (as ridiculous as it may sound). The trajectory of your life will be facing a closed door regarding the options of the future perspectives at your disposal. You began using drugs at 16, let’s say high school. Ten years have passed since then. You have no job experience. The discrimination against you is growing, and you aren’t even able to recognize it. Society will blame you for being a “narcomaniac” and no good. The only option is either to commit suicide or return to where you find togetherness. Old company implies old habits. Once again, you reach for drugs.

And we arrive to the phenomenon of double victimization. On the one hand you are blamed for committing a deadly immoral act by being a “narcomaniac”. When you stop, you are not integrated, this time however due to lack of “trust”. The most common reasons are: “they will steal from you,” although this person/you are no longer addicted to drugs or similar substances.

Condemning the act of drug use is the furthest thing on my mind. I fully believe that a person creates an individual attitude with the substances they consume daily, creates a culture around them, even a metaphysical relationship. I personally have had such a relationship with cigarettes, then coffee, and now prunes. I believe that drug users have a special relationship with heroin, methadone, buprenorphine etc., similarly to people on insulin therapy. The slightest change insulin manufacturers might make can lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction with the product, because substantially it has been changed. Drug users are quite normal, and should be integrated in society as such.

It is important to mention that in order to get rid of the “parasite”, the “majority” has created treatments on how to “cure” this “disease”. As I mentioned earlier, the majority creates laws on “the minority,” tailor-made according to their own needs, in order to protect its imaginary interests. One of these protection programs is buprenorphine treatment. The program is used by the consumer of the so-called therapy, i.e. the “narcomaniac” as a substitute guarantying that otherwise, if he/she is not using its services and have no money to buy heroin, they would be a vermin for the rest of us “normal”, stealing from us and unable to work. Right, clear so far. However, to add fuel to the humiliation, in order to be accepted to buprenorphine treatment, the patient must be subjected to a series of re-disciplinary sessions. During each examination conducted in one of the centralized state clinics, the individual has to be “accompanied” by a guardian. Regardless whether they are older than 30, someone else must take on the role of a guardian, since the therapy can’t be self-administered. Another paradox. Over 90% of buprenorphine users have been on this therapy for a long period and are already in the phase of “being normalized”. Why the need for guardianship and the distrust?

The scenario continues with an even bigger dystopian strategy in which the guardian is obliged to administer the “therapy” at home. This entirely subjects the disobedient entity to change and adjust according to the structure of power and dominance. The patriarch is the decision-maker, and very often the role of the patriarch is played by the doctor, the law, the politician, the biological father or an “improvised” guardian in charge only of the ritual of administering the “therapy”.

This is a common occurrence in Macedonia, however, even if it weren’t still should be treated properly. Narcomania is in fact the social stigmatization of people who in a certain period of their lives wilfully or not stepped out of the prescribed traditional “normalcy”. They are prosecuted, arrested, harassed, rejected, ridiculed and depreciated as human beings. Society is conservative, it rejects and doesn’t integrate them, it fails to create an authentic and non-judgmental dialogue and relationship, often in order to change them as people and adjust them to us, the “normal”. On the other hand, even in cases when drug users decide to be “normalized” in some way, society distrusts them, adopting laws in the interest of the “normal”, not the interest of the two entities, “the normal” and “the narcomaniacs”. We have to stop treating these people as not normal or fools, treating them as not-people. We simply have to stop with prohibitions, particularly regarding non-threatening differences to our “normal” life. Narcomania is a disease rooted in a discriminating and prohibiting society, hence reactions are such as can be witnessed.

In conclusion, I would like to offer my personal views on the experiences related to Portugal where all opioid drugs were decriminalized in 2001. Free access to opioid substances does not make “narcomaniacs” of other members of society, quite contrary, studies have shown that since Portugal adopted the law, the number of drug users has significantly dropped, the budget increased, while the criminal rate is 80% lower, but most of all, HIV infections have declined (every year the number of new HIV infections drops by 2,000 individuals). Furthermore, according to research, the number of overdose death cases in Portugal is three in one million inhabitants. Compared with Holland, where the annual number of overdose death is 44.6 in one million inhabitants, 126.8 death cases in Estonia, while in EU the average rate is 17.3 in a million. The numbers are the result of more flexible views, stipulated by the state within the legislation. Laws do not exclude anyone, the implications for society being huge and with positive outcome for people who use drugs and the surrounding as well.

Mariglen Demiri

Mariglen Demiri is a graduated professor in philosophy. He is an activist and the founder of several left-wing organizations and initiatives in Macedonia. In 2016 he became one of the founders of the political party Levica and a member of its highest governing bodies. Demiri is an advocate for decriminalization of cannabis for broader and recreational use.

The online version of the magazine you can find it HERE.