The opioid crisis has affected millions of Americans. Over 1 million people have some type of opioid addiction, and every year, tens of thousands of people die from opioid overdoses. In Colorado, 55 percent of all drug poisoning deaths were due to opioids in 2017.
Stigma is defined as a negative set of beliefs held by a society or group of people about a specific subset or group of people. People with substance use disorders are commonly stigmatized. This can result in difficulty seeking treatment due to fears of being judged.
Recently, Colorado adopted its Lift the Label campaign to destigmatize people who have substance use disorders. The goal is to educate the public about opioid abuse and acknowledge that people with opioid use disorders are just like everyone else.
Hopefully, this campaign will lift some of the stigma from opioid abuse, allowing people who need treatment to be more open to seeking it out.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that stigma is a major cause of discrimination, and it is often a factor when human rights are violated. Stigmatized groups of people are often viewed as less than human, resulting in covert and overt acts of discrimination toward the group.
Stigmatization is rarely based on factual material. Instead, it is based on generalizations and preconceived notions. Thus, its impact can be reversed.
In the United States, over 20 million Americans over the age of 12 have a substance use disorder. Only around 10 percent of these people get the specialized treatment they need.
People with substance use disorders are often highly stigmatized. Research studies have indicated that people are more likely to have negative attitudes toward those with substance abuse problems than they are toward those with other types of mental illnesses. The general public often does not support housing, insurance, and employment policies that benefit people who have substance use disorders.
Stigmatization of people with substance use disorders results in this group being less likely to seek treatment.
People with substance use disorders are also less willing to access general health care services. This can complicate issues with poor self-esteem or co-occurring mental illnesses in this group.
Stigmatization of opioid users, particularly intravenous opioid abusers, may be particularly salient. It may even be prevalent in addiction treatment centers.
In essence, stigmatization is a form of prejudice. When stigmatized, individuals are not provided the services they need, or they are treated differently than other individuals. This boils down to a form of discrimination.
Discrimination is the practice of signaling out a specific group of people and acting in a manner that violates their rights. In America, protection from many forms of discrimination is guaranteed by the Constitution. Many believe this protection should apply to people who have substance use disorders.
The Lift the Label campaign focuses on reducing, and ultimately removing, the stigma associated with opioid abuse and addiction.
Although some people may feel protected or insulated from addiction to opioids, addiction is not a discriminatory disorder. Addiction can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, social class, ethnicity, or any other demographic.
Colorado’s Lift the Label Campaign aims to confront challenges to those with opioid addictions and to develop effective ways for them to get the treatment they need.
The program was developed by the Colorado Department of Human Services, and it is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Goals of the Lift the Label campaign include:
The state is spending millions of dollars on advertising and educational materials to educate the public about opioid addiction and remove the stigma surrounding the issue.
One of the major goals of the Lift the Label campaign is to help the public understand that people with opioid use disorders are just like everyone else.
Colorado has released the stories of 11 specific individuals who have battled addiction. You can access these personal stories here.
The response to the Lift the Label campaign is generally positive. Supporters agree that:
Nonetheless, there is a small group of people who suggest that:
Overall, Colorado’s Lift the Label campaign has been viewed positively. If the campaign motivates people to reach out for the help they need, and encourages others to empathize more with those in need, it has done its job.