Breaking down stigma can help more addicts seek treatment

“While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition.” — Colleen Barry, associate professor at the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a 2014 study.

Researchers in the Johns Hopkins study found that people don’t generally support insurance, housing and employment policies that benefit people who are dependent on drugs.

The face of addiction is often a hidden one. The negative perception of society toward addicts keeps many from seeking treatment, and, without treatment, recovery is impossible.

With treatment being the key to helping someone addicted to opioids, we have to change our attitudes on how we look at this crisis. Changing how we react can help break down the stigma associated with drug addiction. This, in turn, can help more people come forward for treatment.

We must understand that, just as a diabetic struggles to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, so does an addict struggle to prevent a relapse. Society looks upon the first with understanding and compassion, but too often looks upon the latter with contempt.

The face of an addict is hard to describe. It is young. It is old. It is rich. It is poor. It is the face of a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor.

These faces need to come forward to seek treatment, but many times, this is not possible. They may be afraid of losing everything they have — their jobs, their families, their reputations — if they come forward as an addict.

Addiction is treatable. Recovery is possible. But, unless the stigma of addiction is broken, too many lives will be ruined or lost if treatment is not sought. So how can we help break the stigma?

Recently, we heard some constructive ideas from representatives from the Centre County Drug and Alcohol Office, Youth Service Bureau, United Way and Centre County Government. An article written by Lauren Villa, MPH, for Drugabuse.com also offered some helpful ideas for breaking the stigma of addiction. These tips from the professionals can help us join the fight:

▪ Stop using degrading language when referring to addicts.

▪ Treat all people, including addicts, with dignity and respect.

▪ Be willing to listen and not judge when you see someone struggling.

▪ Be an advocate for laws and policies that protect the jobs and rights of people who may need leaves of absences for treatment.

▪ Advocate for health insurance that does not discriminate against treatment for addiction.

▪ Be supportive and understand that recovery is not a fast race to the finish line. Sometimes it is small laps of victory, followed by setbacks.

If people are not afraid of the contempt of society, then taking the first steps toward recovery will be easier. The stigma of opioid addiction is a very large wall that can block someone’s chances of recovery. We all need to work together to break down that wall.

Tell us what you think. We will compile your letters about opioid addiction in Centre County for future publication. You can send letters by going to www. centredaily.com/opinion/ letters-to-the-editor/submit- letter.