Vanier scholar's research helps those battling drug addiction

Janet Jones

PhD candidate | Philosophy

profile head shot of Janet JonesJanet Jones, a PhD candidate in Philosophy has been recognized for her wonderful dissertation work titled “It Probably Won’t Help Anyway: How Stigma Hurts Health Care Access for Persons with an Addiction” and is the recipient of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship for her work.

As a doctoral student, Janet’s research looks at drug addiction and the social construct of ‘the addict.’ Her research considers how theories regarding addiction impact how ‘the addict’ is perceived and understood. Drug addicted people are typically construed as not having agency or freedom of choice. “If you think about the number of people who recover from addiction, it's hard to agree with any theory of addiction that characterizes the addict as some completely powerless, non-autonomous individual,” Janet says. It is at the intersection of this paradox in understanding that Jones’ research gains its foothold.

“Addicts often report that what makes recovery possible is not their own willpower, but the help and support of others.” Janet says. “It's telling that in 12-step based groups, one of the keys to staying sober is to help others.” She is interested in this field of study because of her previous experiences working with people with addictions. Having worked and volunteered with the Cambridge Recovery Homes, and as a dedicated member of the Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Strategy Initiative (WRIDS—specifically the Recovery and Rehabilitation Committee) Jones has seen the impacts of addiction. She has also lost friends to addiction.

woman sitting on window ledge looking out of the window

To tackle this complex research area, Janet first aims to deconstruct the drug addict stereotype by arguing that these stereotypes originate from misinformation and a lack of understanding surrounding addictions. She thinks that damaging stereotypes impact public perceptions and understanding of drug addicts and this impacts an addict’s autonomy because external judgments create a barrier between addicts and the world they are trying to exist within. “Drug addicts have it bad because so many people are unwilling to see that our beliefs about addiction and the way we treat drug addicts as write-offs contribute to the difficulties in their everyday life,” she says.

Jones spoke at the Canadian Bioethics Society annual conference to an audience composed of philosophers, doctors, nurses, and academics. The takeaway from her talk was addicts should not be instructed by addiction counselors and doctors to receive treatment; they should instead work with the individuals to empower them to make their own decisions regarding treatment. Jones explains, “This might mean addicts don't choose treatment at first, but this increases the likelihood that, when they do, they will be successful.” A main component of her talk was a 2-part checklist she developed to facilitate these discussions.

Previously a Support Worker for Cambridge Recovery Homes, a place that provides housing for individuals in recovery, Janet now volunteers there. She helps with fundraising initiatives, and has helped residents upgrade their education by partnering them with academic supports at Conestoga College. As a member of the Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Strategy (WRIDS), Jones also sometimes appears at town hall meetings to speak about safe consumption sites, or writes op-eds about drug policies.

Outside of the field of addiction, Janet is a board member for the Community Research Ethics Office, which serves as a research ethics board for community-based researchers. What remains important to her is the value of community. She says, “addicts and non-addicts alike need other people to accomplish what they want. No one is ever fully self-sufficient.”

Janet enjoys dismantling commonly held perceptions related to her research focus, and she does this by challenging the perceptions around philosophy scholars. She says, “Philosophy has a reputation of being an armchair discipline, but the truth is, it's not. There are lots of philosophers who work with scholars in other disciplines or the community at large. And they do things other than just think about stuff. I am just following that path. And I'm grateful to be a part of a department that not only encourages that but fosters that.”