Syringes, Substances, and Stigmatization: The Importance of Anti-Stigma Messaging in Combating the American Opioid Crisis

Stigma plays an important role in the mitigation of the opioid epidemic in the United States and often is cited as a barrier to healthcare access for many people who use drugs. In response to these high levels of overdose and overdose deaths, many health departments and nonprofits organizations, particularly those in the Midwest, began communicating the risk of addiction as well as ways in which those afflicted with substance-use disorders can be connected with human and health services. While stigma is regularly reinforced by other community members, health departments and health-related professionals may also unknowingly contribute to perceptions of stigma. A better understanding of how public and nonprofit health and human services can communicate to their publics may ultimately connect more people who use drugs with the necessary resources to combat the opioid crisis in the United States. Some ways include the dissociation of behavior from identity, choosing to use alternative words, as well as the communication of specific, anti-stigma messages. This paper will explore these different aspects of the opioid crisis, focusing particularly on how stigma is communicated to various community members and how this impacts available treatments.