Matthew Stefanko: Within the past year, year and a half, Shatterproof started looking at why stigma was such a problem. We started breaking down the addiction epidemic and the addiction crisis in the United States and took a very big list of things that drove the epidemic. We came to seven of the nine drivers of the addiction epidemic either being partially or entirely driven by stigma. You know shame and social isolation – we think that's a big driver. That's all stigma.
Brenda Hewitt: You never know who's suffering. A lot of people suffer in silence, and a lot of people don't want to talk and speak up and tell you anything or say anything to anybody because of that stigma.
Matthew: Things like lack of access to treatment – that's not entirely stigma. There are obviously provider barriers – there's education issues, things like that – that need to be worked on, but providers are not as willing to treat someone with a substance use disorder than they are willing to treat someone else, right? So, when you start actually understanding the evidence-base around this, you start looking at who is holding stigmatizing beliefs in this country towards those with addiction. It runs the gamut.
Brenda: It's across the country, it's in our communities, it's in our personal lives, and the reality is you never know where a person is, and you never know what a person is going through.
Toscha Blalock: So, given that, we try to, one, be really respectful of how we talk about it.
Kaitlan Baston: I teach medical students, nursing students, residents about how to address substance use disorders with clients a lot, or just substance use in general, and one of the things I teach, as best you can, is to be completely open about it. And when I teach them, I always say not a whiff of judgment. Not even a whiff, right? So, if I say "Did your parents use?" I'm like "Oh, thanks so much for sharing that with me. Yeah, that's really common, right?” Normalize, normalize, normalize. “How long do you use heroin? How about cocaine?” I'm not afraid to say any substance names, and if it doesn't shock me, they're a lot more likely to tell me.
Linda Botelho: It helps families to accept that this is what we're coping with right now. What can I do to help myself get well, to care for my other children in the family, and also gain the information and education I need so that I can provide my loved one who's struggling whatever resources they may benefit from.
Toscha: We try to be mindful of the fact that our staff, who are the people who are equipped and ready to deal with it for the families that they serve, they might be dealing with it themselves.
Matthew: I've met so many different people who are in recovery, and their journeys are all different.
Toscha: It's not an “other” kind of situation, it's an “all of us” situation. So, we really try to make sure that we're not imagining that it only impacts the families we serve because it doesn't, it impacts us all.Close
Experts from around the country discuss the role of stigma in accessing treatment for substance use. Discover strategies that can increase the likelihood of successful outcomes, such as stigma-reducing language and behavior.