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What is the impact of opioid-related stigma and the danger of reproducing it?

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Human beings have long consumed opiates and opioids for pleasure and as a treatment for numerous ailments, most notably pain. North America is currently in the grips of a crisis of opioid-related overdoses, and stigma is considered a major driver of the harms. While it is well established that substance use in general is highly stigmatized, stigma is a complex concept and opioid-related stigma is not well understood. A lack of clarity on opioid-related stigma has practice and policy implications in terms of understanding the sources of opioid stigma, how it manifests in various contexts, its impact on affected groups, and the development of effective strategies to redress it.

A group of researchers from the University of Toronto and the Krembil Brain Institute at UHN performed a scoping review of the academic literature to develop a typology of opioid-related stigma. A charting process identified the type, agent, and recipient of stigma as well as the methodology and substances considered.

The researchers found that how opioid-stigma is (re)produced depends on the context of opioid use, the social identity and networks of the person who is consuming the opioid, and what type of opioid is being consumed, including medically-sanctioned forms of treatment. Opioid-related stigma permeates intrapersonal, interpersonal, structural, and societal levels, and people who consume opioids are marginalized at all levels. The review described the typology of stigma and shed light on multi-level considerations for reducing opioid-related stigma in healthcare settings.

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Until next time!
Chiraz Guessaier, CDA Oasis Manager

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