What Should Be Made of the 'Junkies' of Instagram?

heroin needle

Postings of intravenous (IV) drug use on Instagram attracted the media's scorn 18 months ago, with many seeing it as a perverse glamorization of dangerous drug use. With these posts still a regular occurrence, it's worth considering the justification for these reactions and whether there is more to the issue. 

Back in August 2013, Motherboard, the Daily Mail and Betabeat, among others, ran stories highlighting the increasingly popular Instagram hashtags #junkiesofig and #nodsquad. Far from these trends being a flash in the pan, they appear to still be going strong, albeit in a slightly altered form with tags such as #junkiesofiggg, #junkiefam and #nodsquaddd now more commonly seen.

There has always been a degree of mystique associated with heroin, partly born out of the romanticism of its finality and partly its association with troubled artists such as Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain, and more recently, Philip Seymour Hoffman. As Deemster Diva summed up in an article last year:

"... society ... glamorizes the junky; the lone wolf, living on the fringe of society, dabbling with the dark and forbidden. An artist. A poet ... We want a voyeuristic peek into their lives -- the taboo underworld where most people dare not venture."

This mystique quickly disappears, though, once you begin scrolling through some of the Instagram posts that lay bare the cold reality of IV drug use; there is little subtly in the many insta-filtered arty photos of bags of heroin, needle rigs, various other paraphernalia, and even people’s faces.

The concerns that surround these photo tags and ensuing comments typically stem from the majority view that they glamorize drug use and offer morbid encouragement. But, should they perhaps be seen as a form of support network for people potentially suffering from addiction, a seeking out of people similarly marginalized because of their drug use?

Forums or blogs providing information about new drugs, trends, dosage recommendations, and the various pros and cons have been around for years, allowing people to explain their experiences with a variety of drugs. However, these tend to offer a degree of harm minimization advice which lies in stark contrast to many of these Instagram posts on opiates and IV drug use as evidenced by some of the jarring comments made.

One need only look at the responses in the screenshot to the right -- in particular "Push off. Don't take a pic U F**,"  "I wanna be a junkie," and "Who stops during that part of the process? Jesus Christ, you are a f**,"  -- to get a sense of just how blurry the lines are in this situation. It is in a sense understandable they could be taken as a form of gross encouragement. But, is it really simple to say this is an either/or in the split between supportive community or morbid voyeurism? 

Though heroin may have the aforementioned mystique, ultimately its use is confronted with perhaps the greatest degree of stigma, leaving its users on the fringe of society. With the so-called 'junkies' of Instagram, there is undeniably a degree of strange glamorization. However, there is a fundamental need to consider the roots of this which most likely lie in societal marginalization and the desire to seek out people suffering from similar situations.