The campaign in Pennsylvania is led by Shatterproof, a national nonprofit focused on ending the nation's SUD epidemic, The company has partnered with Kentucky officials on a similar campaign.
Findings from the first year of the Pennsylvania campaign, which started in 2020, were presented at the Rx and Illicit Drug Summit in Atlanta; Tom Valentino, digital managing editor for Addiction Professional, writes about some of those findings.
The campaign was driven by Shatterproof's research that found seven of the nine main drivers of SUDs are driven by stigma, either entirely or at least in part, Valentino reports.
The need to decrease stigma about SUD is especially important in rural areas, where research has found higher levels of stigma toward people who use opioids for nonmedical reasons, including a study by Oak Ridge Associated Universities.
The researchers measured the impact of their campaign in several ways, including statewide surveys and scheduled focus groups.
Shatterproof CEO Gary Mendell told Valentino that the survey found a willingness to live with someone with an opioid-use disorder or to continue a relationship with a friend struggling with an OUD; a higher willingness to provide the overdose-defeating drug naloxone to friends and family; and an openness to having treatment centers near their homes.
In addition, those who had viewed the campaign more often agreed that the opioid epidemic was a serious problem in their community, that medication assisted treatments for OUD are effective; and that they were more supported harm reduction strategies.
Asked what they learned in the first year of the campaign, Mendell talked about the need to address stigma among health-care professionals.
"One thing we learned was that there was a need to target medical personnel and health-care providers, as they are often the first people a victim of an overdose will see," he told Valentino. "By better informing these health-care workers on the stigma that exists and the importance of encouraging treatment, we open the doors for an individual to get the help they need." Mendell said the campaign differs from others in that it prioritized including the recovery community in the decision-making; allowed for flexibility as the campaign evolved; and provided tools and resources for its participants to use to further reduce stigma in their local communities.
“Much like diabetes or heart disease, addiction is a chronic illness,” Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in an e-mail. “Sadly, addiction often is looked upon as a moral failure and those suffering from the disease are labeled in ways that affect the way the public sees them, the way they see themselves, and their ability to seek care.
Research has found that addiction stigma is significantly reduced when individuals can put a face to the disease of addiction and also hear their stories of healing, remission, and recovery and that's what Kentucky's program is designed to do via social media and community outreach.