PITTSBURGH — Battling opioid addiction can be a lifelong struggle — not only to fight the disease, but also the stigma often attached to it.
Pennsylvania is tackling that stigma head-on by launching a new campaign called “Life Unites Us” to combat the misconceptions of opioid use.
Sarah Machado, 49, is a chef at a downtown Pittsburgh restaurant. She was formerly a drug user for almost 30 years. She’s been clean now for eight years, but says the stigma of substance abuse still follows her.
“I’ve lost jobs. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost roommates. You know, you lose everything,” Machado said.
Even though her employer knows about her past and supports her, she asked us not to use the restaurant’s name, partially due to the fear of judgement.
“You never know how people are going to react publicly and I choose to distance it, so as not to cause them any problems,” Machado said.
It’s that stigma the new state campaign hopes to combat, by highlighting success and educating the public.
“We celebrate the empowering stories that will be shared by individuals in recovery and their family members,” said Jen Smith, secretary of Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Programs.
They said it is especially important now as the isolation created by COVID-19 drives addiction numbers higher.
“We estimate right now there are nearly 300,000 Pennsylvanians who have substance use disorder right now,” Gov. Tom Wolf said.
“Stigma prevents individual with opioid abuse disorder from using medications part of their treatment protocol,” Machado said.
We met Machado in Market Square, where she said she sees an overdose death every week. But she wants those struggling to know they can make it.
“Most addicts I know are incredibly intelligent and creative people who have been through some serious hardships, and we need love and acceptance and a second chance,” Machado said.
She hopes this new campaign will help.
“There’s no one type of person who becomes an addict. Until there’s more awareness, more forgiveness, we’re really not going to get anywhere,” Machado said.
The statewide campaign is funding by a $2 million federal grant and partners with several non-profits and Penn State University.
If you or someone you know are struggling with an opioid addiction, you can call the Get Help Now Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP.
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