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Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Hosts Webinar on Best Practices When Covering the Addiction Crisis, Encourages Use of Appropriate Language to Reduce Stigma

09/09/2022

Harrisburg, PA - Today, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) and Penn State Harrisburg Douglas Pollock Center for Addiction Outreach and Research hosted an educational webinar  for communications professionals and members of the media to highlight best practices, in terms of language and images, when writing about the disease of addiction.

“Each of us have been affected in some way by the addiction crisis and we have an obligation to come together and support individuals through their journey to recovery,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “With September being Recovery Month and a heightened focus on reducing stigma for individuals with substance use disorder, I challenge each of us to be more compassionate. The words we use matter and even subtle changes to our vocabulary can have a huge impact on ending stigma and ultimately give an individual who is suffering the courage to seek help.”

DDAP was joined by panelists Sean Fogler, MD, co-founder and consultant with Elevyst and a physician living in long-term recovery, and Aubrey Whelan, staff writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer who covers addiction and substance use in the Philadelphia region.

Topics of discussion included:

  • how stigmatizing language reinforces stigma among the general population and self-stigma;
  • how stigma keeps people from accessing treatment; and
  • what images and language to use and not use when reporting on addiction.

Specifically, presenters urged the media to use person-first language when reporting on substance use disorders (SUD), and avoid stigmatizing words or phrases; for example, experts urge the use of “in recovery” instead of “clean and sober”, and “person who uses drugs” versus “drug abuser.”

Additionally, presenters highlighted the importance of members of the media including resources in their reports like Pennsylvania’s Get Help Now hotline (1-800-662-HELP), to raise awareness of supports available to those who are currently struggling with an SUD.

Studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that feeling stigmatized can reduce the willingness of individuals with an SUD to seek treatment. Those studies also found that stigmatizing views of people with an SUD are common; this stereotyping can lead others to feel pity, fear, anger, and a desire for social distance from people with an SUD.  

For people with SUD, stigma may stem from harmful or inaccurate beliefs that addiction is a moral failing, instead of what we know it to be: a chronic, treatable disease from which patients can recover and continue to lead healthy lives. Reducing stigma can help people living with SUD know that they are not alone, that resources and help are available, and that they are not limited or defined by their disease.

In September 2020, the Wolf Administration launched Life Unites Us, an evidence-based stigma reduction campaign aimed at reducing negative attitudes and stereotypes surrounding addiction by sharing testimonies from real Pennsylvanians in recovery and providing educational webinars on topics such as recovery housing, recovery-friendly workplaces, how to help others who may be struggling, and the importance of family recovery.

In the first 12 months of the campaign, nearly four million Pennsylvanians were reached with information and messaging to encourage stigma reduction. Additionally, a survey of Pennsylvanians conducted one year after the campaign launched found several trends, including greater willingness to live with someone and continue a relationship with a friend struggling with opioid use disorder. Data and findings from year two of the campaign will be available later this fall.

For more information about Life Unites Us and to get involved, visit lifeunitesus.com, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

For more information on Pennsylvania’s efforts to fight the opioid crisis and resources for people affected, visit www.pa.gov/opioids.

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephany Dugan - ra-dapressoffice@pa.gov

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