The BDN Opinion part operates independently and doesn’t set newsroom insurance policies or contribute to reporting or enhancing articles elsewhere within the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Evie Clement is a communication and psychology pupil on the College of Maine the place she is learning the influence of language and stigma in relation to drug use and remedy as a drug coverage analysis fellow. These views are hers and never these of the fellowship or establishment.
We all know there’s a downside with substance use dysfunction in Maine. Roughly 88,000 Mainers had been hooked on a substance in 2016. Opioid use dysfunction is particularly related in Maine, the place opioid-related deaths are rising at alarming charges. During the last half of 2019, overdose deaths in Maine elevated by 27 p.c over the identical time interval within the earlier 12 months. In 2020 alone, over 500 individuals in our state died from overdoses.
Individuals are struggling and persons are dying. LD 967, a invoice proposing to restructure drug sentencing legal guidelines in Maine, affords a hopeful answer to assist fairly than punish these individuals in our group.
The present “answer” to dependancy and overdose is criminalization, however this answer fails to deal with the basis of the issue: stigma. Stigma, particularly about individuals who use medicine, underpins substance use dysfunction, perpetuating stereotypes and misconceptions about practically each facet of drug use. Though substance use dysfunction is a medical situation with complicated contributing elements, it’s usually misunderstood as an ethical failure. Viewing substance use dysfunction on account of inadequate willpower ignores and discredits elements comparable to traumatic histories, psychological well being and bodily and chemical mind modifications that doubtless contribute to dependancy.
This stigma runs deep. As Maine Commissioner of Corrections Randall Liberty notes, the gold commonplace is to deal with dependancy with drugs, often called medication-assisted remedy or MAT. MAT helps an individual keep away from withdrawal signs, permitting them to take part in different types of restoration.
However analysis reveals medical doctors licensed to prescribe these medicines are sometimes hesitant to take action. These medical doctors face a restrict on the variety of sufferers (usually 30) they’ll deal with with medication-assisted remedy. Sadly, solely 44 p.c to 66 p.c of suppliers are assembly these limits. Amongst different elements, stigma about individuals who use medicine stays a barrier to offering remedy to those that want it.
Stigmatizing beliefs and insurance policies also can make individuals much less prone to search remedy and contribute to a basic dehumanization of individuals with a substance use dysfunction. A punitive strategy fails to deal with these problems with stigma and entry to remedy. A drug-related felony exacerbates them.
To immediately tackle the pitfalls of the punitive strategy, LD 967 would make possession of small quantities of medication a civil fairly than a felony violation, and create alternatives for individuals to get linked to remedy. Appreciable proof suggests such human-centered initiatives work.
Portugal offers a promising instance, exhibiting a lower in overdose deaths, HIV infections, problematic drug use, and incarceration for drug-related offenses, together with a rise in voluntary enrollment in remedy. Johann Hari, creator of “Chasing the Scream,” praises Switzerland and Portugal’s success in beating their opioid disaster, noting within the e-book: “They didn’t do it by demonizing the drug, or the addicted individual. They did it by coping with the explanations individuals needed the drug within the first place.”
Think about if Maine’s drug coverage acknowledged underlying contributing elements to substance use dysfunction and supplied assist to deal with these elements fairly than villainizing and blaming people.
When holding stigmatizing beliefs, we fail to notice these with substance use dysfunction as absolutely human. How are we anticipated to assist them if we don’t really worth them or their lives? A shift in perspective from punishment to well being, as seen with LD 967, is required to fight stigmatizing beliefs, promote well-being, and provides hope to these for whom it has been denied for thus lengthy.
It’s time to acknowledge the humanity of our mates, household, and fellow Mainers within the grips of dependancy. It’s time to cease punishing and to begin serving to individuals.
As residents, I urge you to assist this invoice; it’s one step in the suitable path towards treating all Mainers, together with individuals who use medicine, with compassion and dignity.