Statewide Campaign Aims To Reduce Stigma Surrounding Substance Use Disorder

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Stigma surrounding Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is often seen as a barrier for many who struggle with dependency. 

In many cases, it’s the difference between seeking help or not, and possibly even life or death.

“The reason that stigma can present itself as such a barrier is that folks are really ashamed to admit the circumstances of their situation, they’re often ashamed to ask for help,” said Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Jen Smith.

As drug overdoses continue to rise in Pennsylvania, officials and advocates are working to reduce stigma that often accompanies SUD.

In September of 2020, The Life Unites Us campaign was formed with one goal: reducing stigma throughout the commonwealth.

Life Unites Us is a collaborative partnership between the PA DDAP, the Douglas W. Pollock Center for Addiction Outreach and Research at Penn State Harrisburg, and the non-profits Shatterproof and The Public Good Projects. It is funded by $1.9 million in federal grant funding and is part of DDAP’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan goal of reducing the stigma of substance use disorder.

The campaign provides a platform for those living with, and recovering from opioid dependency to tell their stories.

“What this campaign does is helps people understand that they’re not alone, that there is help available and that they have the opportunity to seek out what those resources could be,” said Secretary Smith. “And that might be treatment, or that might be just locating a community-based organization that offers support groups. So maybe the first step for you is just reaching out and telling one person about what you’re struggling with,” Smith added.

Tyler Hindinger shared her story of recovery through Life Unites Us and says one of the most important aspects in her journey was connecting with others. However, stigma makes it difficult for many.

“I think that stigma keeps people disconnected. It keeps people judgmental. It keeps relationships from forming. It keeps people sick and it keeps this world just broken,” said Hindinger. “Whenever something can come into somebody’s life and offer just a little bit of that hope, that can mean the world, that can make the biggest difference,” she added.

Today, the campaign released findings and data on efforts to reduce stigma over the course of the past year.

According to the DDAP, a survey of Pennsylvanians conducted one year after the campaign launch found several trends, including greater willingness to live with someone and continue a relationship with a friend struggling with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). Pennsylvanians also indicated higher willingness to provide naloxone to friends and family of people with OUD, and openness to having opioid treatment centers located near their homes. Some additional findings from the one-year follow-up survey include:

  • 80% of respondents who viewed the campaign agreed that the opioid epidemic is a serious problem in their community; compared to 61.9% of respondents who did not view the campaign.
  • 39.2% of respondents who viewed the campaign agreed that buprenorphine, medication-assisted treatment for OUD, is effective; compared to 25.8% of respondents who did not view the campaign.
  • 35% of respondents who viewed the campaign agreed that their local government has strong policies to support people with OUD; compared to 17.2% of respondents who did not view the campaign.
  • 60.8% of respondents who viewed the campaign agreed that their community has programs to help people with OUD; compared to 38.2% of respondents who did not view the campaign.

The campaign hopes to carry the momentum in 2022 by confronting and correcting harmful perceptions and stereotypes, one story at a time.

“People don’t know something is possible until they can see it be achieved and I needed to be able to see other people achieve sobriety before I could achieve it,” said Hindinger.


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