How can we change the public discussion on drug addiction?

To fight the opioid epidemic will take altering people’s thoughts around drug abuse

The way people feel about drug addiction has evolved significantly since the outbreak of the fentanyl crisis.

But the shift from viewing addiction as a moral problem to treating it like any other health issue is a work in progress, says Rae Samson, a substance abuse worker at Interior Health.

“I’m not sure if we are a generation away from making that shift, but a lot of work has been dedicated to that purpose in the past 20 years with tremendous gains. But there have been really rapid gains since the opioid crisis began,” Samson said.

“Over the past year, you have heard a very different conversation than you would have heard the year before that.”

Samson was responding to question from chair Doug Cochrane at the Interior Health board meeting on Tuesday in Kelowna, asking what the public can do to help change the way people view drug addiction.

Related: Study says family doctors should be trained to help drug-addicted patients

Samson said there is a two-pronged answer to Cochrane’s question. One aspect is from health care providers to break down barriers of communication surrounding drug addiction issues.

She said the impact goes beyond patients.

“Ourselves along with family members all feel the impact of people we know with drug addictions in one way or another. An important part of destigmatizing drug addiction is to bring those discussions out of the shadows, to discuss it in a forthright way like we would any other health issue.”

Samson said with the opioid crisis and the stakes being so high, more people are engaging in that conversation openly than in past years.

Related: Gambling and drug addicts share similar brain activity

The other aspect involves physicians willing to engage in addiction struggles their patients might be facing in a meaningful way.

“That can be a difficult conversation for a patient to have with their doctor, and the physician may be reluctant as well because they might not be sure where to guide their patient struggling with an addiction to seek help.”

Samson said IH is working with physicians to educate them about all of the care options available and work collaboratively to be a key part of that process.

She added IH has also started a pilot project in several communities across the region to provide drug analysis using a strip test to determine fentanyl content.

Samson said the service provides a variety of options for the individual such as to choose not use the substance or take appropriate precautions should an overdose occur.

The service is available at the mobile drug consumption services in Kelowna and Kamloops, and was set up at a test station for the Shambhala Music Festival near Nelson last summer.

“This is a huge change in thinking, moving away from the ‘Just say no to drugs’ concept because evidence has shown that to be highly ineffective to offering people choices and making informed decisions about their health care in the same way we would any other health care issue.”

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