Name the Epidemic: Opiates or AIDS?

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April 03, 2014


Remember the Lesson: Stigma Kills

One way to spur people to action is to come up with a scary comparison. Will this work? A new study shows that there are parallels in the current epidemic of opiate abuse with the beginnings of the AIDS/HIV epidemic 30 years ago. Anyone who remembers that time doesn’t have trouble drawing those parallels.
Researchers in Rhode Island compared both epidemics and published the study online, in advance of the print version, in the American Journal of Medicine. The study showed that opiate overdose death rates now are taking a similar curve to the beginning years of AIDS–before doctors understood how it was transmitted, before medicines were available and when fear and especially stigma ruled. Both epidemics affected people who were young, previously healthy and already stigmatized: Gay men 30 years ago, young addicted people now.
You can even draw the parallels of the double closet. When AIDS first hit in the early 1980s, many gay men were still closeted to their families. Their parents found out their sons were gay and were dying at the same time. Now, parents and friends are finding out that their loved ones are addicted to drugs, and not just smoking some pot, but shooting up heroin.
As the researchers said in their press release: “Effective care is compromised by a public perception that only certain groups become addicts. The death toll of the two epidemics is comparable, but the response to opioid addiction is not yet as effective: every 19 minutes another American dies from an unintentional overdose.”
Looking at history gives us an opportunity. It all comes down to these questions: How can what happened then help us now? What did we do right or wrong then, so we can use that lesson now?
AIDS spurred novel changes in how the public approaches medical treatment. People got angry enough to demand changes in how quickly drugs were approved and how and why their medical information became available.
We can use that knowledge to make a change now. Realize that anyone can become an addict and work on prevention. Abandon any idea of stigma, which can only delay people getting the help they need. If you need help, get it. There are methods that can help everyone—you just need to find them.
Lakeview Health can help. We are available 24/7 to get you into treatment as quickly as possible. All it takes is the courage to start the process. Call our intake counselors at 866.704.7692 to make that start now.

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