WH Drug Czar: ‘Abuser and Addict’ Terms Stigmatize Drug Users

By Melanie Arter | May 20, 2016 | 1:16pm EDT
A drug addict prepares a needle to inject himself with heroin in front of a church in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – White House drug czar Michael Botticelli said Thursday that using “terms like abuser and addict” to describe people with drug addictions makes it less likely that they will get treatment.

“Funding isn’t our only barrier to expanding treatment. We also have an enormous hurdle to overcome, and that’s shame and stigma,” Botticelli said.


“Stigma is an obstacle for people reaching out, reaching recovery, and living healthy and productive lives. That’s because stigma breeds prejudice, discrimination. It alienates and isolates people. It prevents them from accessing treatment and even seeking it in the first place. It says you should be ashamed because you have a disease,” he said.

“In fact, research has shown that when we use terms like abuser and addict to describe someone with a substance use disorder, that person is actually less likely to be offered treatment or to receive treatment, and often contributes to negative public policy,” he said, adding “and this stigma extends to other aspects of recovery, including housing and employment opportunities so needed for people to be stable in their recovery. “

The White House marked National Hepatitis Testing Day on Thursday. Botticelli, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, used the occasion to call for “greater focus on implementing and expanding syringe services programs.”

Syringe services programs, also known as needle exchange programs, provide intravenous drug users with sterile needles with which to inject drugs. Opponents of needle exchange programs say such programs enable addicts to continue using.

Congress first banned federal funding of needle exchange programs in 1988, lifted the ban in 2009, and then reinstated it in 2011, the USA Today reported in a Jan. 1, 2016 article. In January, Congress lifted the ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs, but the money cannot be spent on syringes – only on staff and programs.

“Studies have shown time and time again that syringe services programs work. We know that people who inject drugs and don’t use syringe services programs are seven times more likely to contract hepatitis C,” Botticelli said.

“Despite this, many people don’t have access to these important public health programs, and we really appreciate Congress, who previously banned federal funding for syringe services programs, but President Obama signed into law in December a revision of that ban, so funding can be used to support many aspects of these programs, and we thank Congress, and it’s a big step forward,” Botticelli added.

“Plus, we know that syringe service programs are effective in linking people who inject drugs into treatment programs. The evidence is clear: syringe service programs work and will help us reduce the consequences of the opioid epidemic, including the number of new hepatitis and HIV infections,” he said.

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