New campaign aims to reduce stigma surrounding opioid use

A new campaign is designed to reduce the stigma surrounding the use of opioids.

The Durham Region Health Department, in partnership with the Durham Region Opioid Task Force, is has launched a new initiative titled ‘People Who Use Drugs are Real People. Get Informed. Get Involved. Get Help.’

The campaign was developed as part of the response to the growing number of opioid-related emergency department visits and deaths being reported across the Region.

Since 2013, the number of emergency department visits due to opioid overdoses in Durham Region increased from 160 in 2013 to 389 visits in 2017. The total number opioid-related deaths in Durham also increased from 18 deaths in 2013 to 58 deaths by 2017. Preliminary numbers indicate there were 57 opioid-related deaths in the region last year.

“The opioid crisis is impacting individuals and families across Durham Region,” said Chris Arnott, a public health nurse with health department.

“It’s important for us to come together as a community to support our residents who could be our neighbours, friends and family members, who may be struggling with substance use disorders.

“One of the biggest barriers preventing people who use substances from seeking help is stigma. When a person encounters stigma, it can diminish their self-esteem and make it very difficult for them to seek out health care, housing and employment opportunities.”

Opioid addictions can start from a legitimate prescription because of surgery or injury. As well, some individuals may start using opioids to cope with past emotional trauma or mental health issues.

Arnott explained that understanding how an opioid addiction may have started can help us have empathy and compassion for individuals struggling with substance use disorders and help to end stigma.

“There are many things we can all do to help reduce stigma faced by individuals struggling with drug addictions. We can start by educating ourselves about substance use disorders, by reflecting on our own biases, and speaking up when we see someone being treated or spoken to in a disrespectful manner.”

She also indicated that the words we use when speaking about people who use drugs is important as well.

“We need to try using people-first language, such as ‘a person who uses substances’ versus ‘drug user’ and avoid slang or derogatory language such as ‘addict’ or ‘junkie’,” she said.

The campaign will feature posters, website information, videos and social media posts. Creative material for this campaign was adapted from the Stop Overdose BC campaign, launched by the British Columbia Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in 2018. The Ministry graciously shared its material with Durham Region Health Department.

This public awareness campaign is also part of a comprehensive plan to address the opioid crisis locally and involves several other strategies being undertaken by the Health Department and the Durham Region Opioid Task Force, which include:

Developing an opioid overdose information and early warning system.

Increasing treatment options that are relevant and accessible within Durham Region.

Developing a local, evidence-based harm reduction strategy that encourages service coordination and increased access to harm reduction services and supplies.

Continuing to partner with Durham Regional Police Service to address the production, supply and distribution of illicit drugs.

Working closely with the Central East Local Health Integration Network to better connect clients who are facing opioid-related addiction to the right care, at the right time.

To learn more about substance use disorders, opioids and what you can do to help stop stigma, click HERE.

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