An opioid is any synthetic or natural agent that stimulates opioid receptors and produces opium-like effects. These are used in the treatment of pain but are often sold illicitly and abused for their euphoric effects. An overdose might result depression of central nervous system and respiratory system, miosis, and apnea, which can be fatal if not treated rapidly. In US, opioid and other substance overdoses are a public health emergency. However, according to two researchers of Northeastern University, police, policymakers, and journalists have historically framed people with addictions as criminals instead of treating them like medical patients.
Thus, journalism fellow Zachary Siegel and Leo Beletsky, an associate professor of law and health sciences at the Northeastern University, want to move away from these harmful perspectives and change the way we talk about addiction. Recently, they launched Changing the Narrative. It is a guide for healthcare professionals, journalists and policymakers. It was headed by journalist Maia Szalavitz, who has been covering the overdose crisis from a scientific perspective for years. Szalavitz, Siegel, and Beletsky consulted medical professionals, specialists in addiction, journalists, and academic researchers who study public health to provide a comprehensive list of vocabulary and stereotypes that should be avoided.
According to Siegel, research has found that when someone is identified as a drug abuser or an addict, the perception is very negative. People are more likely to think that an addict deserves punishment. If someone with an addiction is put in jail without receiving proper medical attention, that person might go into withdrawal. When released, they try to fix the withdrawal but in jail, their tolerance has dropped. Thus, they end up taking a dose, thinking it safe but often they’ll overdose and die.
An alternative to “addict” or “drug abuser” can be a “person with a substance-use disorder.” Using less-stigmatizing language can help ease negative biases and change how medical professionals treat addiction.
Urges journalists to choose their sources wisely, Siegel says “It can sound like snowflake political correctness, but using person-first language is really humanizing and creates a totally different perception of a person who has a medical illness that is treatable.”
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman