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Group trying to shift attitudes toward substance abuse

Banners and billboards will be appearing in Fayette County promoting the campaign to End Stigma associated with substance abuse disorder.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

A local group has received $100,000 to try to end the stigma that some people associate with substance abuse disorder.

Communities That Care will try to shift attitudes and beliefs towards substance abuse, said Holly Dunn of CTC. The Indiana Department of Mental Health and Addiction has provided the group with $100,000 for the campaign.

“The purpose is to end the stigma, because people are dying,” she said.

Substance abuse is a disease that hits all socioeconomic groups, genders and walks of life, she said. There are a lot of people living in recovery.

In Connersville, people aged 35-55 die younger than in any other county in Indiana. Some of that is attributed to drug abuse, Sarah Rathburn, director of CTC, said. Drug poisoning is the leading cause of death for the age group, followed by suicide, heart disease and unintended injuries.

“Fayette County is number one in the state for drug poisoning so the question is how do we address that?” she said. “We need to let people know it is a disease that is preventable and treatable. If we understand it is a disease, then we can support our loved ones instead of judging them and they don’t have to hide their issues instead of seeking treatment.”

CTC has just six months to do the hard push to shift attitudes, Dunn said. Billboards will be going up soon promoting the End Stigma campaign. By reducing stigma, the goal is that more people will seek help and live longer, just like people with heart disease.

Grant money will be split three ways, Dunn said: a stigma reduction campaign to change attitudes and beliefs;  training for first responders and the community at-large; and parental support to strengthen families.

If people feel like if they can be helped and not be judged, they may be less likely to die, Dunn said.

“The more I feel like we address it and give people the education to help them understand it is a brain disease and not a moral failing, I believe over time we can change people’s language and how it’s addressed,” said Charmin Gabbard, grant coordinator.

The grant program uses a model called Words Matter.

“Instead of saying ‘you’re a junkie,’ you would say ‘you have a substance abuse disorder,” Rathburn said. “Knowing it’s a disease, willpower will not cure it.”

Addiction changes brain chemicals and functioning, she added.

“What would the world look like if there wasn’t stigma associated with addiction?” Dunn asked. “When you ask yourself that question, more people would get help. Families wouldn’t be ashamed.”

There are options in the community for peer support and for medicated treatment as well as the House of Ruth for women, she said. There is no long-term program for men.

She said many people do not like the medication-assisted treatment like Methadone, Suboxone, Subutex and Vivitrol because the consider the medications as a crutch. Statistics show that someone who attends 20 therapy sessions in conjunction with medication-assisted treatment has an 80 percent better chance of recovery.

“I think over time, as we start to see more successes, that will become the way more people go,” Gabbard said. “Instead of going straight from detox to be sober, it’s more about helping someone maintain and get the mental health issues addressed they need to recover.”

Medicaid and some forms of private insurance will cover some treatment costs, Gabbard said. 

CTC will be at community events throughout the summer and conclude with its own large event with a speaker and a concert at Calvary Baptist Church on Aug. 23, she said. Tonier Cain-Muldrow, a recovering addict, will provide a Christian concert and tell her story of trauma.

“She is one of the most profound speakers I have ever heard,” Dunn said.

For more information and updates, go to the End Stigma Facebook page.