A division of the VDH Office of Epidemiology
The mission of the Division of Disease Prevention (DDP) is to maximize public health and safety through the elimination, prevention, and control of disease, disability, and death caused by HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, other sexually transmitted infections .
Just Say No!—To Addiction Stigma
When we shame a person for a particular trait, quality, or action, it’s called stigma. There is a lot of stigma in our society against many groups of people, like persons who have been in jail, those that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, immigrants, and persons with diseases like addiction disorders. Stigma associated with addiction implies that the person with an addiction disorder, “did it to themselves,” or “is weak,” or “can stop at any time, they just don’t want to,” when in reality, they are struggling with a disease.
Stigma is a public health issue — it contributes to high rates of death (by overdose and suicide), incarceration, and mental health issues among persons with addiction disorders. Thousands of Virginians are dependent on drugs or alcohol and only a small percentage receive treatment. In fact, the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 21.5 million Americans age 12 and older had a substance use disorder in the previous year; however, sadly only 2.5 million received the specialized treatment they needed.
Stigma can also affect the public’s perception of evidence-based harm reduction strategies. Harm reduction refers to public health interventions like:
- Needle exchanges and sterile syringe programs
- Substitution therapies- like methadone, buprenorphine, and other medication assisted therapies
Some people believe these programs encourage drug use – despite evidence showing that they actually decrease drug use.
Becoming dependent on drugs can happen to anyone. It’s important to keep in mind that we need to do a better job of decreasing stigma around drug use. Unfortunately, people who experience stigma regarding their drug use are less likely to seek treatment, which results in economic, social, and medical costs to all of us. In the United States, costs associated with untreated addiction (including those related to healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity) amounts to approximately $510 billion per year. Reducing the stigma associated with addiction disorders not only saves lives, but tax dollars.
For more information on addiction, stigma, or Virginia’s opioid epidemic, visit www.vaaware.com.
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