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Opioid Awareness

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Correcting the stigma

Many believe opioid addiction is a choice. It is not, said Jessica Hutchings, who works at Kids Escaping Drugs.

Misconceptions about addiction can cause those addicted, or their families, to feel like they will be judged when they reach out for help, which can affect their recovery process, said Anne Constantino, CEO of Horizon Health Services.

“The most important thing people need to know is it’s very difficult to recover from this disorder on your own,” she said. “What I see is people who wanted to do it alone and couldn’t. Families are ashamed…the same way you would be ashamed for any bad habit or big secret you didn’t want people to know.”

Colleen Babcock, parent and family support coordinator at Horizon, experienced the impact of addiction in her own family with her son Chris. She said she openly shares her son’s story and her family’s experience.

“I would never want my son to be ashamed that he suffers from a disease,” she said. Chris’ addiction wasn’t a choice. His only choice was when it came to his recovery, Babcock said.

That stigma is also shown in people’s mixed reactions to medication-assisted treatments, said Melanie Washington, Behavioral Health Clinical Coordinator for BlueCross BlueShield of WNY. Certain medications can alleviate cravings and other withdrawal symptoms, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Catholic Health will open its newest chemical dependency treatment clinic, where patients can receive methadone and other medication-assisted treatment, this month on John Glenn Drive in northwest Amherst. Catholic Health had originally proposed the clinic open on Millersport Highway, but met with strong opposition from town officials and neighbors.

“When it comes to treatments, facilities and increasing the number of methadone clinics or any of those medically assisted treatment facilities, there’s a fear of individuals present there, that it’s going to increase crime or violence within their communities,” Washington said. “I think it’s still thought of as ‘those people’ have that problem.”

Washington also said the epidemic hits all socioeconomic populations.

“I think it’s just increasing education,” Washington said. “(Those addicted) are not bad people. They just unfortunately for whatever reason, often in very innocent ways, have become addicted to powerful medication.”

A medication called naloxone (Narcan) is also used as emergency treatment of suspected or known opioid overdoses.

Hutchings said there are also mixed opinions on the use of Narcan. But she said when people sit down with a parent whose child’s life has been saved from Narcan, they understand why it’s vitally important.

“Every time somebody is revived with Narcan, it’s an opportunity for them to consider turning their life around,” she said.

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