Higher education has a crucial role in the emancipation and empowerment of students towards challenging the established dogmas, norms and rules. Debates about drug policies in certain countries are prevalent throughout the world, more precisely about how these policies affect the realization of the rights of people who use drugs. In its last report, the WHO recommended that states decriminalize drug use and decrease the number of people incarcerated due to drug use. Therefore, it is essential that students today are educated on current discussions about certain political issues in order to be able to participate and contribute as future professionals towards promotion of the rights of marginalized communities in the country.
In the past few months I participated in the analysis of several textbooks within the curricula of higher education institutions, which among other cover issues like drug use, people who use drugs (PUD) and people who live with HIV. Several experts from different fields took part in the analysis, with my task being examination of textbooks in criminal law, criminalistics and penology. The general conclusion was that the textbooks from the curricula of higher education in Macedonia include terms not in compliance with the contemporary terminology on PUD regarding their human rights. Namely, PUD are among the most disliked groups in our society, hence teaching from textbooks that enforce the negative stereotype of this group leads towards preserving the stigma and discrimination against them.
When referring to PUD the textbook authors mostly use the term “narco-addicts,” which is related to negative stereotypes that stigmatize people who use drugs. The use of language towards defining certain terms, occurrences or when referring to certain people encourages and also preserves stigma and negative stereotypes attached to certain individuals and occurrences. The most common explanation justifying the use of the contested terms “junkie,” and “narcomania” are the existing laws that still employ these terms. However, the terminology in laws dating from the previous political system and not in compliance with the human rights protection standards cannot serve as justification when speaking of terminology in contemporary texts in higher education institutions that exclude, stigmatize and discriminate. Education serves to question the established norms, to criticize and finally contribute to changing these norms towards respect of human rights of all people. Biased and uncritical representation of the existing laws and practices related to drugs deprives students from knowledge on legal documents that are, also, part of the legal system of Macedonia.
The analysis of the six textbooks in law and security proved that regardless of the date of publishing, all texts contain terms not in compliance with the contemporary terminology recommended by the relevant international institutions, such as WHO, UNAIDS and UNODC. The terms “junkie,” “narcomania,” and “narco addict,” are to be found in all textbooks, contrary to the human rights protection standards, thus violating the dignity of PUD. Apart from the derogatory terms, the authors frequently place them in a negative context to identify PUD as criminals and perpetrators of criminal acts. Furthermore, some of the textbooks contain incorrect information regarding drug use regulation, classification of drugs, the effects and consequences of drug use. The professional literature used in textbooks is outdated, while the information is not in accordance with the latest international standards. The textbooks offer information on the authors’ personal views regarding drug issues, drug use, transmision of infectuos diseases, without giving comprehensive informaiton of the contemporary debates and trends in the field in order to encourage students to discuss and establish their own views regarding these issues. In this context, students should receive information that will lead them to challenge the adopted provisions, practices and policies and advocate for their amendment and promotion towards protection of the rights of marginalized communities.
A problematic provision in the existing legislation should be a subject of criticism and debate in higher education. The principle of adaptability in education is an opportunity for adapting the curriculum in accordance with the change in social relations. Namely, education should be more flexible, in compliance with the contemporary scientific and legal thought, and should not allow uncritical reading of legal documents and the established judicial practice, particularly if they violate the human rights of marginalized groups.
The WHO and other relevant bodies on drug issues within the UN in their efforts to promote public health recommend decriminalization of people who use drugs and meeting their needs and problems with a “humane and supportive approach.” Such an approach should be created on a level of national strategy meaning institutional changes towards decreasing the “institutionalized stigma and discrimination.” In practice, drug use is criminalized, while according to the analyzed textbooks such practice is supported and imparted to future professionals in the field. Drug use as social occurrence is referred to by the authors with the discriminatory and offensive term “narcomania” and placed in the category “deviation” or “deviant behaviour,” while people who use drugs are described as criminals.
Therefore, a revision of the existing programs in addition to deletion of the contested textbook contents is mandatory, while a humane and supportive approach when dealing with issues related to drug use and people who use drugs needs to be included. Education and dissemination of information related to human rights are the basis in conveying the necessary knowledge to legislators, judges and other institutions in order to make the existing legal remedies available and efficient. Understanding the human rights concept, particularly in the field of penology, criminal law and criminalistic tactics is crucial in the prevention of human rights violation and activation of international mechanisms for human rights protection in cases of violations.