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Massachusetts Leads Media Campaign to Reduce Stigma of Addiction

Author: Shernide Delva

Just last week, Massachusetts kicked off a five week campaign to combat the stigma of addiction. The campaign was launched in order to educate the public about addiction and the harms of stigmatizing behaviors.

Unfortunately, the stigma of addiction often prevents addicts from getting treatment even when they have a condition or illness completely unrelated to their drug use. They face judgment and discrimination because of their addiction issues that can prevent them from wanting to see their physicians.

The campaign to combat the stigma of addiction will broadcast on radio, billboards and digital ads. It will feature Massachusetts residents who have experienced stigma first hand. The campaign will also use social media and the hashtag #StateWithoutStigMA to join people together and spread the message further. Gov. Charlie Baker announced the campaign at a recent press conference.

“Studies show that stigmas can prevent people from getting into treatment—holding them back from recovery, stability and success,” said Gov. Baker. “This campaign is another effort to bend the trend and change the way we think about opioid misuse and addiction.”

The #StateWithoutStigMA webpage gives examples of stigma such as the negative connotation associated with words like junkie and druggie, or holding on to the idea of addiction as sign of human weakness, lack or morals, and willpower.

The website conducted interviews with people in recovery from opioids and found that the following were examples of stigma:

  • Hurtful words such as junkie, lower; thief, druggie, abuser and addict
  • Communities who view addiction as a crime, an act that must be penalizes versus an illness that needs treatment
  • Addiction as a result of poor parenting
  • Parents unwilling to let their children play with the children of parents in recovery
  • Hospitals denying treatment or giving poor treatment to those with a history of addiction
  • Those known to local law enforcement being “profiled”

Another facet of the campaign involved YouTube videos where viewers can watch and hear the personal stories of people who talk about how the stigma of addiction made their recovery significantly more difficult.

“I wouldn’t go to the hospital, just because I knew that as soon as I got there, as soon as they looked in my chart and saw that I had a history of heroin addiction or saw the abscess in my arm, I was instantly labeled a junkie,” said Stephanie in one video. “I was left in the hallway for hours, asking for a glass of water. I’d be ignored for hours.”

Drug abuse cannot be ignored like it was previously. It cannot be criminalized in that same manner that it previously was either. Substance abuse affects more than the bum on the treat. It is everywhere.  It has reached epidemic levels in the United States Massachusetts is one of the first states to lead the charge to address the debilitating effect of stigmatizing addiction.

The Stigma of Opioid Addiction

When it comes to opioid addiction such as prescription painkillers and heroin, addicts face a wide range of stigma. Biased, hurtful and behavioral prejudices against people with substance use disorder often lead to their discrimination and social exclusion.

Overtime, stigmas can create physical and mental barriers for people with addiction to seeking treatment. Stigmas occur in three different facets and affect addicts in a personal way.

Personal Stigma: Self-disgust, self-hate at one’s appearance, behavior lifestyle and/or physical condition often resulting in feelings of being unworthy of help or recovery.

Social Stigma: Negative perceptions, labels and actions from friends and family; feeling isolated or rejected.

Institutional Stigma: Negative treatment from health care providers, the media, law enforcement, places of work or government agencies.

The campaign is fighting for people to be aware and discuss whether or not we are contributing negatively to the stigma. Are our biased feelings, words or behaviors negatively affecting someone else’s path to recovery and treatment? The campaign pushes for the public to look within and hopefully gain a more positive perspective. Furthermore, the campaign believes that everyone can be a part of the solution to support and encourage people in recovery.

Each of us can address the misconceptions about addiction and long-term recovery. Overcoming the stigma is an effort that will require coming together and raising awareness. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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