The Unfortunate Result of Stigma

  • 1 October, 2019

Elizabeth McKeon has a story that helped her path to becoming a Board Certified Psychiatric, Recovery and Addiction RN. Moving back to her home town in the Tri-State area, after being gone for almost two decades gave her a surprise to find that her sweet little home town was in trouble.

Taking a position to coordinate a behavioral health holding area for the local emergency department, she had to help patients seek treatment for behavioral health crises and placement in treatment centers with the use of Telepsychiatry. This unit held a great number of people asking for detox from everything from Methamphetamine and heroine to alcohol.

Elizabeth said, “I saw people I had grown up with suffering from these addictions.” “I realized very quickly that drug addiction has no boundaries and no one was safe in its path. I made alliances with local mobile crisis team, churches, Law Enforcement, EMS and anyone else willing to help battle this nightmare that had taken over my town. One thing I noticed the entire time, was the stigma revolving around all behavioral health, including substance abuse.”

Unfortunately, people who are exposed to stigma around their drug use are less likely to seek help in recovery, resulting in escalating costs and deaths nationwide. “In the United States, costs associated with untreated addiction (including those related to healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity) amounted to a whopping $510 billion.” (Harwood, 2000).

Stigma in hospitals or doctors’ offices can discourage people from accessing needed recovery options and or healthcare. Having a primary care physician is directly associated with a feeling of wellness and harm reduction. “Studies have found that some healthcare providers feel uncomfortable when working with people who are dependent on drugs. In a study of nurses’ attitudes towards patients, the majority of nurses held negative views about people who used drugs.” (Howard & Chung, 2000).

When health providers carry a stigma towards people with mental health diagnoses and or substance use disorders, it can affect their willingness to assess or treat the patient for these disorders, how they approach him or her, and it may prevent addicted individuals from seeking healthcare altogether.

Why treatment and recovery for substance use disorders are important:

• 2017: Opioid overdose has been identified as the nation’s MOST PRESSING HEALTH CONCERN
• 2.5 MILLION PEOPLE with opiate/heroin use disorder
• 2016: 64,070 overdose deaths involving opiates, up from 24,000 in 2014 ( due to fentanyl laced heroine)
• An 83% increase in non-medical opiate use (abuse)
• By 2020, mental and substance use disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide.

In addition, drug and alcohol use can lead to other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Addressing the impact of substance use alone is estimated to cost Americans more than $600 billion each year. (SAMSHA/recovery/data )

As individuals in our community we can help! Here are some simple ways you can help reduce stigma:

• Modeling non-stigmatizing behavior can help people provide nonjudgmental, empathic support.
• Displaying kindness to people who have an issue with substance use
• Listen to someones story
• Seeing the person and not the drug
• Learn more about drug dependency and how it works
• Volunteer
• Treating people with substance use disorder the same as others
• Avoid hurtful labels ( Stigmatic terms )
• Help educate others

“I am blessed to be able continue my journey in behavioral health at Chatuge Regional Hospital.” The recent coordinated and new program, Clearview Center; has an Intensive Outpatient Program for Senior Wellness. Clearview Center, offers group and individual therapies to help battle behavioral health issues and substance use disorders. Our team includes, Licensed Counselors, Board Certified RN, and Nurse Practitioner. Please feel free to reach out to our staff at 1-706-896-5840, for an evaluation or with questions.

Categories: Article, Local Health

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