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Editorial | Help ‘end the stigma’

By Staff | Feb 15, 2024

Unless you are one of the very lucky ones, addiction has touched your life or that of someone you know.

A neighbor.

A co-worker.

A family member or someone else you love.

Addicts — those with what is now called substance abuse disorder — are not limited to that “druggie,” “mugshot,” “panhandling-to-support-their-habit,” unknown person on the street who we have labeled.

Too often — too heartbreakingly often — it is someone we know as a friend, have broken bread with, or by the nickname we gave them in childhood when any thought of drug or alcohol abuse was an impossibility.

In the world we live in, it is not.

Fostered by the very institutions we pay taxes to to protect our families and our communities, the worst era of addiction the world has seen began in the 1990s when opioids were considered a miracle drug for those with chronic pain.

Touted as non-addictive in time-release form, these pills were aggressively marketed by pharmaceutical companies while “clinical norms also began emphasizing patients’ pain and treating it with opioids,” according to “The Opioid Crisis and Recent Federal Policy Responses,” a September 2022 report published by the Congressional Budget Office. “In addition, oversight and reimbursement incentives in the health care system encouraged opioid prescribing.”

That’s a formal way of saying the pills were formulated, addiction probability was overlooked or ignored, drug companies and pain-management clinics and their pharmacies made money by the truckload while lobbyist-led politicians raked in campaign donations and government regulatory agencies did little as the catastrophic failure at all levels snowballed, leaving bodies and destroyed lives in its wake.

According to the report, the U.S. has subsequently undergone a continued “series of overlapping waves” of death and addiction since the over-prescribed wonder drugs hit the streets with Florida, the country’s prescription epicenter aka drug-distribution mecca.

Crackdowns on pharmacy popups did little to address the issue of addiction as heroin and counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl poured in to replace the drugs once not only legal but prescribed to well, most anyone for what ailed them.

The political solution?

Lock those “drug users” up.

The U.S. prison population increased from 771,243 in 1990 to an estimated 1,585,400 in 1995 to 2.2 million in 2020 with 44.4% of the people there on drug-related charges.

So stigma.


And additional stigma.

SalusCare wants to help effect a change in direction and is one of 100 sites nationwide for a whole new effort to replace stigma with treatment and recovery services.

The pilot program of which SalusCare is now a part, the Addiction Policy Forum’s Anti-Stigma Initiative, has a goal of “reducing the stigma that prevents people struggling with addiction from reaching out for help.”

The program was launched last year to “deploy and test new anti-stigma interventions.”

The initiative includes a survey open to the community that officials say “will help identify challenges to addiction treatment. The goal of the initiative includes reducing addiction stigma, eliminating stereotypes and prejudice, eradicating discrimination and increasing knowledge about addiction.”

“Individuals with a substance use disorder (SUD) are too often subject to harsh moral judgments and frequent discrimination, which can delay treatment access and increase rates of dropout from treatment and recovery services,” said Executive Director of Addiction Policy Forum Jessica Hulsey in a release about the pilot program sent to local media Wednesday. “All key sectors in our communities must come together to address the manifestations of stigma and improve knowledge and compassion. This initiative will allow us to test new scales and interventions to address stigma at the local level.”

SalusCare, a not-for-profit mental health and substance abuse service provider based in Fort Myers, believes mitigating the stigma opens the path to recovery.

“The Anti-Stigma Initiative reaffirms our commitment to providing a supportive and compassionate environment for individuals who are impacted by substance use disorders,” said Stacey Cook, president and CEO of SalusCare in the release. “By challenging stigmatizing beliefs, we aim to remove the barriers that often prevent individuals from seeking help and support on their journey to recovery.”

SalusCare needs public participation for its efforts and to that end “invites the entire community… to take the survey, which takes about 10 minutes to complete. It includes questions about how people view addiction and addiction treatment.”

It’s a start.

And it’s an invitation to which we urge a “yes” from both residents and employers.

For our neighbors.

For those we love.

For all of us.

The survey may be found HERE.

— Breeze editorial