Director, National Stigma Initiative, Shatterproof
This year we have seen how an inadequate healthcare infrastructure has failed to address a national health crisis, and how that disproportionately affects Black Americans.
The addiction epidemic has shown this insufficiency for years. Today, in the United States, 1 in 4 preventable deaths are attributable to alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. For Black Americans, the trend is more troubling: between 2015 and 2016, the rate of increase of drug overdose deaths increased 40% compared to the overall increase of 21%.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the addiction epidemic will worsen. Rising unemployment and a decline in mental health will drive overdoses. We already see this impact. Suspected overdoses increased 29% in April and 42% in May compared to last year.
There are several well-documented drivers of the addiction crisis including an insufficient treatment system and social isolation. Stigma partially or entirely contributes to most of these drivers. Approximately 20% of those who needed treatment at a specialty facility did not seek it out because they felt it would alienate them from their employers, neighbors, or family.
We must confront the pervasive stigma facing those with a substance use disorder. As the addiction epidemic becomes even more tragic due to COVID-19, it is more critical than ever that addiction stigma is eliminated.