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Come As You Are: Combatting Stigma January 19, 2022 @11:00am

Various reasons prevent people who use drugs from accessing help, support, or treatment. The most obvious and glaring is the stigma associated with illicit drug use. It is common knowledge that drug use is a health issue rather than a criminal one, yet, moral beliefs can often reflect negative attitudes towards people struggling with substance abuse.

If people do not feel they can be open and honest about their drug use without judgement, they will typically keep those feelings of shame to themselves and don’t seek support. This type of isolation happens more often in rural communities than in urban centers, where there is a sense of anonymity. Many people we work with express their gratitude for having a safe person to discuss their drug use and learn how to be safer/healthier when they are using. This connection helps to decrease the harm someone may experience in a high-risk situation or lifestyle and forms the principles of our work at Turning Point.

Stigma can be broken into three categories: perceived/self, directed from the public, and structural/institutional (healthcare practitioners, hospitals, etc.). It is common for people using drugs to internalize the opinions and comments heard in the community and unhelpful things seen on social media. When people see comments on pages that imply drug users are worthless, drains on society, or, worse, deserve death, it is not difficult to imagine how that feels to someone who is in active use. How can we expect people to seek support and treatment if people project this within their community? If anything, it causes people to hide and deal with things like mental health, trauma, and PTSD by themselves. We know most opioid poisonings are happening to people using drugs alone; it is counter-intuitive and harmful to force people into the shadows when it comes to drug use. We need to bring them back into our community to offer solutions and help them find their ideal recovery.

Practical, easy-to-implement solutions to combatting stigma include using person-first language and refraining from words that place blame, judgement, or induce harm onto others whose lifestyle may not be agreeable to yours. Realistic, harm reduction-focused education on substance use is another way to understand why people use drugs. It has been beneficial to help facilitate open dialogues in various spaces about drugs, overdoses, and how to address this issue in smaller rural communities. Turning Point can present to groups, organizations, and interested citizens in more detail about language, stigma, and what we can do to make things better for people using drugs to show support for their health, safety, and care.

Jenn McCrindle, Rural Outreach

Turning Point


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