Article: Confronting the Stigma of Opioid Use Disorder—and Its Treatment

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The Journal of the American Medical Association. Published online February 26, 2014.

Authors: Yngvild Olsen, MD, MPH1; Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD2


Confronting the Stigma of Opioid Use Disorder—and Its Treatment

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman from a heroin overdose tragically adds another name to the list of celebrities who have lost their lives to addiction. Increasing numbers of overdoses from prescription opioids and a more recent increase in heroin-associated fatalities have caused heartbreak in communities across the country. More than 30 000 deaths from unintentional drug overdose were reported in the United States in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.[1]

Given the severity of this national epidemic, it is time to confront the stigma associated with opioid use disorder and its treatment with medications. By limiting the availability of care and by discouraging people who use opioids from seeking effective services, this stigma is impeding progress in reducing the toll of overdose.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the long-acting medications methadone and buprenorphine are “a critical component of opioid addiction treatment” because “scientific research has established that medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction increases patient retention and decreases drug use, infectious disease transmission, and criminal activity.”[2] Researchers have documented that treatment with these medications is life-extending for individuals with opioid use disorder.[3]