Learning to deal with the substance abuse stigma


“Addiction is often misunderstood as a moral failing or a subject of shame,” Taylor said. “Patients should be treated as patients and not as addicts.”

On Nov. 2 Director of Chemical Dependency Treatment Services at Crouse Monika Taylor and Administrative Director of the Upstate New York Poison Center Upstate Triage Michele Caliva came to Le Moyne’s Grewen Auditorium to talk about substance abuse.

Presented by Omicron at-Large Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, the event began with Taylor informing students about the stigma surrounding those who suffer from addiction.

She explained how addiction is a disease of both the body and the brain that impacts 16 percent of Americans age 12 and older. Around 22.5 million Americans are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, but only 4.2 million are receiving treatment.

The stigma associated with addiction is helping to hinder health care workers’ ability to properly treat those suffering. Taylor noted that healthcare providers should practice empathy when caring for addiction patients rather than being judgmental of the patient’s actions.

“It’s about trying to be understanding and being helpful in a therapeutic way,” Taylor said.

Taylor concluded her presentation by emphasizing that addiction is treatable, and there are many treatment resources in Central New York, as well as online. She also mentioned that a big part of preventing addiction is by finding alternative ways to treat pain other than the use of opioids as well as educating the community.

Caliva, the next speaker, focused largely on the topic of heroin in her presentation. She began by giving some background information on heroin, such as what it is and how addictions begin. According to Caliva, heroin was first used to treat morphine addiction and tuberculosis, but now heroin is an opioid that acts as a depressant and is relatively accessible.

“Heroin addiction has nothing to do with a person’s educational background, money, or where they live,” Caliva said.

Caliva talked about a common trend regarding how heroin addiction begins. One way is that a person is prescribed an opioid drug to treat pain and when the person no longer medically needs it and is no longer prescribed the opioid, they turn to heroin to relieve their opioid craving. Another way is when person is taking opioid medication and stores it in their medicine cabinet then a family member or someone else finds it, takes it, and becomes addicted.

“Accessibility is a major issue,” Caliva said. “Once we use a drug, we need to get rid of it.”

Caliva also commented on the negative stigma that Taylor mentioned during her talk, saying that most people don’t choose the lifestyle that coincides with drug addiction. “Most people don’t wake up and say, ‘I want to be a heroin addict,’” she said.  

Opioid addiction is a national issue, but there are systems in place within Syracuse to help those struggling with their addictions.