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Campaign Seeks To Fight The Stigma Of Addiction Through Community Conversations

Carla K. Johnson
Pennsylvania's campaign to reduce stigma associated with substance abuse aims to encourage more opioid users to seek treatment.


A series of community discussions and an interactive website featuring the stories of the opioid crisis will launch in Pennsylvania next year as part of a campaign to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction.

Ultimately, the initiative aims to encourage those who struggle with addiction to seek treatment, according to postdoctoral scholar Glenn Sterner, who is leading the campaign’s work from Penn State’s Justice Center for Research.

“We know that stigma attached to addiction, specifically when we think about the opioid crisis,” Sterner said, “can lead to people either being embarrassed, or not getting treatment when they actually need it.”

Sterner said people who have been affected by the opioid crisis are invited to submit their stories to the website that is expected to launch in the spring. He said he hopes bringing the community together to talk about addiction will further destigmatize those struggling with addiction.

“We really want to be able to have this conversation so that we don’t put this issue into a closet, that we don’t hide it away and that we’re not embarrassed by it,” Sterner explained, “but that we really help people to understand that they can get the services that they need.”

Sterner noted that the anti-stigma campaign is part of a dramatic shift in the way substance abuse is treated since the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 90s – with addiction now being viewed more as a medical issue than as a moral failing.

The Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross Foundation is funding the campaign, which Sterner said, will initially focus on the Philadelphia region, with the potential to spread to the rest of the state and the nation.