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The Stigma of Opioid Use Disorder

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One of the biggest hurdles to fighting Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) can be stigma. It is a formidable barrier. Our society demeans, ostracizes, and in some cases, criminalizes, creating a perception that OUD is a moral failure, a hopeless addiction that only befalls certain types of people, instead of as the chronic illness that it really is.

These common misconceptions in our society create a negative environment where:

  • those who are suffering are afraid to seek help
  • those in recovery are afraid to share their experiences when that sharing could help others
  • the facts about what OUD really is are obscured

So, how do we take steps to eliminate the stigma and break down the barriers to treatment in an environment where users can feel more comfortable bringing themselves forward?

Raise awareness about what OUD really is

Opioid misuse does not signify a lack of character, unreliability, or deceit. It is an illness that changes the chemistry of the brain and robs a person of free will. It can be treated with medication and therapy.

Change the narrative

Some of the common terms associated with OUD are misleading or outdated. These are terms like:

  • addict
  • junkie
  • clean and dirty
  • abuser
  • enabling
  • rock bottom
  • tough love
  • narcotic

Refraining from using these terms with negative connotations helps to eliminate the shame commonly and wrongly associated with OUD.

Celebrate recovery

Recovery is achievement and worthy of praise and encouragement. Communicating to someone in recovery that you are proud of them, that you recognize their accomplishment, that you believe in them, that you have compassion for them, goes a long way in maintaining an atmosphere of hope and pride for the patient. On the other side, don’t create an aura of shame about relapse.

There are other factors contributing to stigma, such as misconceptions about medications used to treat OUD and the unwillingness of the justice system to consider medical judgment in treatment.

For an in-depth study, visit the video of the conference on “Stigma and Access to Treatment,” held at Harvard University in October, 2019.

Complete recovery care includes dignity and treatment built to suit the individual’s needs.  Often, contributing issues to OUD can stem from childhood traumas, depression, anxiety and a number of overlapping health concerns.  The case for an outpatient rehab program to assess and treat all aspects of a person’s mental, emotional, behavioral and physical is overwhelming. Eliminating stigma increases as more information and discussion occurs.

If you or someone you know is struggling with Opioid Use Disorder, please reach out today!

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