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Victims Of Opioid Epidemic Need Our Support – Not Stigma

end stigma

Empathy and Understanding is necessary in any healing process.

This article originally appeared at 

Addiction is a disease. It’s a disease that requires medical treatment, like other conditions.

As Dr. A.R. Mohammad points out in an article titled Heroin in the Suburbs: An American Epidemic: “There is a deep misconception in society about using drugs. Addiction is a chronic mental illness. It is a deadly disease and you can die from it.”

When people lose sight of this, they lump those struggling with addiction into a dehumanizing category, labeling them as “junkies” and “tweakers”. Labels like this support and amplify negative stigmas.

Homelessness, poverty, mental illness, and other (often uncontrollable) circumstances create frequent hardships for those who are addicted to drugs. These hardships may even be the root of addictive tendencies for some people.

One thing is certain: all of this creates a dangerous cyclical effect filled with obstacles that are tremendously difficult to rise above.

Drug addiction and homelessness are often corollary. Homelessness and drug addiction are heavily criminalized. Criminal records make it nearly impossible to find housing. Most homeless shelters only accept people who are not addicted.

As many addicts are not only homeless, but also in and out of jail, odds of treating illnesses (both mental and physical), are slim to none. Addictions spiral out of control when there is no glimmer of hope. This can have deadly consequences, as overdoses occur more regularly than ever.

The demographic hit hardest are women who are homeless and addicted to heavy drugs. Society tends to put women who are struggling on the back-burner since more men are homeless than women. This is highly problematic as progress for women who are homeless, incarcerated, in need of healthcare, and/or addicted to drugs is bleakly grueling.

Dr. Danielle Rousseau, Professor of Criminal Justice at Boston University, elaborates: “Women are often overlooked because on the surface, they make up a small part of the criminal justice puzzle. In reality, though, women’s experience in the criminal justice system has an immense effect on future generations of our society. The incarceration of women has an immediate and direct impact on their children. Thus, women’s incarceration can result in a cycle of systemic involvement from one generation to the next. We need alternative pathways and examples. We need trauma-informed approaches that are intergenerational.”

The same can be said about our efforts at eliminating cross-generational addiction. A major reason why so many babies are born addicted to opiates is because getting medical attention is especially challenging for addicted women. Healthcare for women who are addicted to drugs, homeless and experiencing direct or off-hand institutionalization face massive setbacks. For them to recover, takes more diligence than most are capable of.

Medically supervised injection centers (MSICs) are becoming more common throughout the country as evidence of this epidemic gains traction in the media. Until we can offer further resources and support, it’s crucial to remember: addicts are humans, just trying to make it like everyone else is in this chaotic world.

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