An editorial in the Feb. 26. newspaper accurately suggests that stigma plays a powerful role in our response to the so-called called “opioid epidemic” and rightfully so (“Our View: Years into fight against addiction, stigma remains a real barrier”). In fact it may be the No. 1 barrier itself, even more so than the disease.

We’re continuing to miss the target, however. We don’t have an opioid crisis, we have an addiction crisis. We won’t succeed until we look at the bigger picture. Addiction, the genetically-based disease, is the problem, not any specific substance or behavior.

The figure given in the editorial is 25,000 people dealing with addiction. This may be a gross understatement. It is more likely to be at least a 100,000-plus when we look at the bigger picture.

We, as individuals, along with the media and even treatment centers themselves all play a part in the perpetuation of stigma by the language we use. For example the editorial uses the term “substance abuse,” which we now know, via research is an inaccurate portrayal of the problem. How many health officials, counselors, doctors, nurses, etc., still use unhealthy terms like drug of choice, clean vs. dirty, or relapse instead of recurrence?

How many treatment centers or individual counselors look away from the continued use of nicotine, in any form, rather than addressing it as a symptom of the disease. While nicotine, opiates, alcohol, marijuana etc. react differently in the brain with different neurochemicals, the metabolic pathway is the same for all of them. How can a person heal while still using certain “overlooked” addictive substances?

I agree with the editorial. We all need to step up. Focus on the disease. Forget character defects in moral inventories. Utilize medication where necessary. Stop the blind eye towards nicotine use. Treat the whole disease for the best results.

Robert A. Creamer


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