Bioethics Blogs

De-stigmatization of the disgraceful mark of stigma in the opioid crisis

After attending Albany Government Law Review’s symposium, Script to Street: Opioids and the Law in the Capital District this past Thursday, there was several issues addressed but the one overarching concern was about the role of stigma in this opioid crisis. Many different types of stigma were identified and the different ways our negative judgments have impacted society. As one speaker during the first panel discussion stated, addiction is not a new problem. He described one historic painting that showed different reactions of society to addiction: disgust, numbness, shock, or simply ignoring the problem. All of these reactions illustrate stigma and shows how despite all our social advancements, we still have not eliminated (or destigmatized) stigma of the addiction problem. 

Some definitions of stigma include a mark of disgrace, society disapproval of something, or a negative set of beliefs society has about something.  All definitions include this perceived negativity and describe stigma as bad. Stigma is not something one like to face and usually, a judgment one tends to try avoiding. 

The issue with stigma our current opioid crisis is that it is not just one type of stigma, it is layers of stigma on top of one another. There is the stigma of being a drug user and the stereotypes of who is a drug user (the poor, African American, Hispanic). Drug-users are perceived to be “bad” people who only care about drugs.  This perception becomes a barrier to treatment as individuals do not want to seek treatment in fears they will be labeled as a drug user, even if these individuals are suffering from chronic pain.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.