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Starting out: Learning slang improves care of drug users

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I received this insight from Maureen, a community nurse who works with addicts in a rough urban area near London.

‘Drug addicts have their own slang,’ she explained, ‘and being able to converse in it is like a badge of entry into their world.’

‘You mean, addicts use a different vocabulary from the rest of us?’ I asked.

‘To some extent, yes. If you understand it, the barriers come down and they may accept you as someone they can talk to. Lacking that knowledge, you remain an outsider. At least, that’s my experience.’

I asked for some examples. What are the slang words for marijuana, for instance?

‘Oh, there are dozens,’ she replied. ‘Weed, grass, hash or hemp. Or twist, tea and
stash. Then there’s bullet, cabbage, Mary Jane, brick, bomb, bale, reefer and baby. They’re all words for marijuana.’

‘What are the street slang names for other drugs?’

‘Cocaine is ice, snow or nose candy. Ecstasy is echoes, burgers or disco biscuits. All illegal drugs seem to have street names, unlike legal drugs such as caffeine.’

‘Is there a reason for that?’

She shrugged. ‘Maybe it’s because you can take caffeine openly without fear of being prosecuted.

‘There’s no need for an arcane slang to cover up your activities.’

Talking to an experienced practitioner such as Maureen was an education for me. Anyone interested in the realities of addiction, treatment and street slang should consider reading Tom Scott
and Trevor Grice’s book The Great Brain Robbery (Aurum Press, 1998), which treats the subject responsibly but with a light touch.

Lesley McHarg is a second-year nursing student in Scotland

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