Stigma makes it hard to see the real person underneath the addiction. Let’s break the cycle.
National Addictions Awareness Week (Nov 20-26) sparks an annual conversation about the harm caused by substance use disorder and addiction in Canada. But as dangerous as addiction is, stigma is the silent killer that keeps people from getting the help they need.
As Canada’s trusted care provider for substance use disorder and addictions, our dedicated teams are on the front lines across the country every day giving people the support they need on their journey to wellness. But even the best health care can only do so much to break the cycle of addiction. The fact is, we all have a role to play in unravelling the misinformation and misconceptions around substance use and eliminating dehumanizing labels forced upon people experiencing addiction.
Fear is fueling Canada’s overdose crisis
It’s been proven that, when people face stigma around their addiction, they often avoid seeking the care they need to get back on track. Unfortunately, many doctors don’t want to work with people struggling with substance use, creating a barrier to care that can put someone at serious risk of overdose or death. In fact, a recent study showed only 4% of primary care physicians in Ontario would take on a new patient with opioid use disorder.
Whether it’s the fear of burning bridges with family, losing their job or ending an intimate relationship, far too many Canadians are suffering in silence due to the dark cloud of stigma hanging over their heads. And, when people with addiction feel like they have nowhere to turn, overdose becomes an even bigger (and all-too-often fatal) threat.
Take the pledge. Stop the stigma.
While one person can’t change the way society as a whole views addiction, there are small things we can all do to make our communities safer for people who use drugs.
This year, pledge to take these 3 simple (but powerful) actions:
Watch Your Language
Avoid using words that reinforce negative stereotypes.
Learn The Facts
Stigma comes from lack of education on the truth.
Show You Care
One conversation can save a life.
1. Watch your language
Avoid using words that reinforce negative stereotypes around addiction and create labels that take away from the person underneath. And correct others when you hear them being used.
The most common words to avoid are:
These words put the focus on the addiction, rather than the person.
- Person with/experiencing addiction
- Person who uses drugs
It’s a small change, but makes all the difference to the person on the receiving end of the words.
2. Learn the facts
Stigma comes from lack of education on the truth. There are many trustworthy sources of information on addiction and substance use disorder. Here are a few to get you started:
- Signs of an Opioid Overdose and What to Do When It Happens
- About opioid use treatment
- Government of Canada
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction
3. Show you care
If you suspect someone you know is experiencing addiction, reach out and let them know it’s safe to talk to you about it. One conversation can save a life.
Whether you need help yourself, or are concerned about someone else, we’re with you all the way.
Spread the word on social media
We’ve created a set of images you can share on social media to break down stigma surrounding substance use and addiction and show your support for National Addictions Awareness Week.
You’ll also find pre-written posts to go along with each image, so you can copy, paste and share as easily as possible. Feel free add your own spin and make it personal!
Tag CATC on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn so we can like and re-share!
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Message from the CEO
The overdose crisis is giving healthcare a choice: stand together or fall apart
As children we’re often taught that, when a problem seems too big to handle, we should break it into smaller pieces. In recent years, the overdose crisis in our country has grown before our eyes into a humanitarian issue of massive proportions—one that we in the healthcare sector can’t possibly tackle in isolation.
Unfortunately, while vying to claim our own rightful places on the battlefield, we risk losing the war.
When looking at the full spectrum of healthcare stakeholders in Canada, it’s easy to focus on differences. In the addictions medicine space alone, there is ongoing heated debate over the roles of harm reduction and safe supply alongside evidence-based treatment in recovery. Organizations who share the same mission, and serve the same people, are competing for the same funding; often undermining each other’s efforts in the process. More broadly, the important roles of mental health services, primary care and community supports in helping people with substance use disorder can’t be understated. The fact is, every stakeholder across the care spectrum plays a critical role in putting an end to the overdose crisis fueled by a toxic illicit drug supply.
While our individual points of view and approaches to care may differ, we all have one fundamental thing in common: the goal of improving and saving the lives of people affected by substance use and addiction.
The people we serve as a sector are trusting us to join forces to support them with our collective strength. It’s time to focus on the infinitely more important fact that we’re all working toward the same end. For our part, that means building bridges across our sector, working hand-in-hand with stakeholders across the care spectrum to improve outcomes for people in recovery. While we can’t ignore that the addictions medicine and recovery space is rife with competing points of view, we refuse to let that stand in the way of providing the best possible outcomes for our patients.
What does this commitment look like? Working hand-in-hand with publicly funded harm reduction-focused organizations to create capacity, building community care partnerships on the ground and working with hospitals to lessen burden on emergency rooms—these are all ways we’re fighting alongside our healthcare allies in the battle against overdose, each tackling our own piece, but as a united front.
In time of greatest challenge, we learn powerful lessons. If the rapidly changing landscape of substance use has laid bare any hard truths it’s that we, as a sector, have a choice. We can stand together alongside the people we collectively serve, or fall apart under the weight of a problem that’s simply too big for any of us to handle on our own.
With a toxic supply of illicit drugs threatening lives every day, the road ahead is going to be hard for health care providers in Canada. Let’s make the choice to walk it together.
- Matt Grifa, CEO