The stigmatization of any form of treatment, for any medical problem, is something that people interested in social justice must fight.
By Princess Harmony
Epidemics aren’t just issues to be dealt with by the medical community, they’re also social justice issues. This is true of any epidemic, but this is especially true of the opioid epidemic. While the victims of the epidemic who’ve gotten the most attention are typically middle-class and white, it strikes at all demographics. There’s an overdose death every 16 minutes and entire neighborhoods are affected. While there’s no magic bullet that can fix the epidemic, and the human cost of it can never be restored, there are treatments for it.
The starting point for most people trying to get treatment for addiction is detox then rehab, followed by outpatient therapy and the use of either a 12 Step fellowship or a self-help group like SMART Recovery. Some patients however, myself included, use outpatient treatment called medication assisted therapy. What is medication assisted therapy? It is the use of methadone and buprenorphine (found in Suboxone, Subutex, Buprenorphine, or Zubsolv). Alongside these medications, patients in a MAT program also attend group and individual therapy. Whether one goes the route of complete abstinence or medicated assisted treatment, there’s help for an opioid addict looking to be free of the nightmare of drug addiction and get back on their feet. The problem, however, is that medication assisted therapy is itself stigmatized. That’s right, some of the best and most successful tools we have in facing the opioid epidemic is stigmatized.
It's important to understand the sources of the stigma, so that one can get the facts about methadone and buprenorphine. One source of the stigma against these treatments comes from your stereotypical, middle class NIMBY who thinks that a handful of people who hang around clinics post-dose are symbolic of the treatments themselves. In Philadelphia, a city that’s one of the hardest hit by the epidemic, several methadone and buprenorphine clinics have had to fight against these “concerned citizens” who either don’t understand the benefits of the treatments or care more about property values and the type of people who inhabit their neighborhood. Fortunately, the law can protect clinics and their clients from discrimination by neighbors.
Related: Drug Addiction Is A Disorder - Not A Moral Failure
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