Opioid Epidemic Stigma Perpetuated by Social Media

Opioid Epidemic Stigma Perpetuated by Social Media

You’ve seen them. The exposure of devastating images of addiction, especially photos and videos of people overdosing or near-death, sometimes with their children nearby.

In some instances, the posted or shared pictures and videos were posted by law enforcement or first responders.

Questions have been raised as to why it is acceptable to post images that feature people with addiction. People are questioning whether the same situation would arise if people were found to be in medical emergency situations that involve a diabetic, or asthma.

It is acceptable for a bystander to post similar images on social media too?

According to Samuel A. Ball, PhD,President and CEO of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, the stigma of addiction will remain strong because some of its symptoms result in real risk or harm to others. But more of the stigma of addiction, which is also true of obesity, comes from the public believing that these different, life-threatening medical conditions result from poor willpower and that they can be changed solely through motivation, effort and self-control. Research has proven these prejudices to be untrue.

Noted Dr. Ball, “The truth is most young people who have unhealthy diets or use substances do not go on to develop the diseases of chronic obesity or addiction. Genetic and environmental factors influence how our bodies and brains process food and substances and more powerfully determine chronic obesity and addiction than choice or willpower. Yet, the general public still dismisses these facts and blames the victim. The reality is that expecting sick people to change by judging, shaming, arresting, or admonishing them rarely works and sometimes worsens their condition.”
Further, decades of research and expert opinion conclude that scare tactics do not work. Worse, these videos may lead to even greater suffering by shaming and humiliating the victims or re-traumatizing those who have lost loved ones to addiction. These videos do nothing positive to promote lasting change or improve the health of people suffering with addiction or the well-being of their families.

Opioid overdose reversal medication followed by long-term maintenance treatment and continuous care monitoring are needed for those people most seriously addicted to opioids. Not videos. And most definitely, not the judgment, shame, humiliation, and ignorance of those who may be trying to help, but are only adding to the stigma and suffering.

The article appeared on the The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) website.

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