Despite many efforts to destigmatize drug abuse and addiction, there is still a stigma attached to it in many cases. From friends and family to medical professionals, there is a tendency to look down on those who become addicted or to try to shame them into getting help.
Addiction stigma can often be counterproductive for addicts, making them too ashamed to ask for help when they really need it. Some go on to overdose while others just deepen the addiction, making future treatment more difficult.
Lift the Label Campaign
A new program in Colorado aims to reduce and remove the stigma of drug addiction in an attempt to remove it as a barrier to treatment. Lift the Label is a campaign being undertaken by the Colorado Department of Behavioral Health to combat addiction stigma. The campaign offers stories of those who have struggled with and overcome addiction to opioids as well as information about treatment options and encouragement to get help.
An example of how stigma can be harmful for people who abuse opioids is Blair Hubbard, a 19-year-old whose first experience with heroin after a year of abusing prescription drugs following dental surgery led to the amputation of one of her fingers.
Hubbard, now a counselor who helps others struggling with addiction, said that the doctor who handled her amputation tried to shame her into stopping her drug use, calling her an "idiot" and saying she got what she deserved. Instead of causing her to seek treatment, his treatment caused her to use heroin for five more years before she finally began taking methadone to treat her opioid addiction.
Good Intentions, Bad Methods
Like Hubbard's doctor, many people think that shaming or berating people into treatment is helping them, but the exact opposite reaction is true in many cases. Addicts are not different from many other people, who react to shaming and abuse with stubbornness and end up digging into their addictive behavior further rather than getting the help they so desperately need.
The opioid crisis has resulted in thousands of overdoses in Colorado in recent years, and government agencies are working hard to find ways to lower overdose rates and save lives. Reversing the crisis is a top priority for mental health and substance abuse professionals in the state, which has passed several new laws to combat the crisis.
If someone you love is abusing opioids, it is likely that he or she feels plenty of shame even without others adding their negative comments and attitudes. Amanda from Denver, Colorado says on the Lift the Label site that "it wasn't until I stopped stigmatizing myself that I was able to start my lasting recovery." Her mother's eventual realization that she could not just stop using heroin by willpower alone was key to Amanda being able to stop shaming herself and invest fully in her treatment.