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The prejudice people feel about those with opioid use disorder (OUD), including those in active addiction and in recovery is called stigma. Those with OUD often feel shame and disgrace when they encounter stigma.

Stigma often grows from the belief that substance use is a choice or a moral failing. People may say individuals with OUD are lazy and not trying hard enough to quit. This mindset ignores how these drugs alter the human brain, which makes it a chronic or lifelong disease. It also overlooks that many people have successful long-term recovery.

Image by Karolina Bobek. A field of lavender.


Through Stop Stigma: End Opioid Bias in Gaston County, we’re sharing stories of individuals whose lives have been impacted by OUD. Through their videos and writings you will see how opioid stigma:

  • Discourages people from admitting they have an opioid use disorder

  • Discourages people from seeking drug treatment

  • Demeans the use of low-dose opioids in Medically Assisted Therapy (MAT), as trading one addiction for another, where it is the gold standard for treatment when combined with talk therapy

  • Builds resistance to harm-reduction – which includes needle exchange programs that prevent the spread of Hepatitis C, HIV, and severe infections – as well as the use of naloxone, a safe drug used to reverse opioid overdoses

  • Makes those without active addiction less willing to help those with OUD needs at work and church

  • Sustains work policies that do not help employees secure treatment

  • Can compromise the care clinicians provide to people with OUD

  • Harms individuals with OUD by eroding their self-worth, which often leads them to avoid others

  • Makes it difficult for people in recovery to find employment

  • Flows over to those in recovery who need pain management and pain relief

Image by Jordan Collins. Brown leaves on a wood dock.


Help reduce stigma by:

  • Using "people-first" language, as described here

  • Reaching out to encourage and support those who requests help, whether it be the person experiencing OUD personally, or their loved ones

  • Educating ourselves and others on opioids, OUD, and the science behind addiction

  • Speaking up when you see someone being treated unfairly due to their addiction

  • Listening to those who have experienced OUD firsthand and respecting their life experience and insights

  • Taking a harm reduction approach to meeting people where they are, to help minimize risk



people don't believe a substance use disorder is a chronic medical illness, similar to diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease


of those with an opioid use disorder expressed feeling ashamed of themselves


think treatment works, but nearly half believe that medications used for treating opioid use disorder is substituting one drug for another


wouldn't want to move next door to someone currently using substances or have them as a friend


The words we use matter.


The Addictionary® defines terms related to Substance Use Disorder (SUD). 

Click below to access the Addictionary®

Thanks to the Gaston Community Foundation for their generous support of our work to stop opioid stigma.

Gaston Community Foundation logo. Text says "Gaston Community Foundation".
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