Substance Abuse and Overdose Prevention PAC

Blog posts

New year, new name!

Language can be a powerful tool, and a dangerous weapon. The way we wield our words in an attempt to describe ourselves, our experiences, and the world around us is shaped by- and helps shape- our value systems. We cannot work to end the stigma that casts its shadow over individuals who are living with substance use disorder while continuing to use language that places blame on those same individuals for their illness. Over the course of history, many terms have been used to describe the conditions we now know as ‘substance use disorders’. Inebriate, drunkard, junky, dope fiend, alcoholic, and addict have more recently replaced with ‘substance abuser’ in an attempt to move beyond the shaming and blaming of the past. However, this continues to emphasize behavior, and does a disservice to any effort to re-educate the public as to the true clinical and medical origins, progression, and treatment of this disease. People do not ‘abuse’ substances. No harm comes to a substance as a result of someone’s use. In fact, the harm comes primarily to the person who is experiencing a substance use disorder, and it is exacerbated by the stigma embedded in this language. In addition to the negative impact of stigma in the general population, providers demonstrate more punitive approaches to treating someone who is a ‘substance abuser’ versus someone ‘with a substance use disorder’ (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20005692). Not only does the latter terminology shift focus from an individual label to an accurate clinical description of presenting symptoms, it centers the person, rather than the disorder. Every one of us is more than a diagnosis, and using ‘person first’ language helps remind of us that every time we say the words.

As we move into 2019, the PAC will be renamed to reflect our commitment to reform - at the individual, local, state, and global levels. Going forward, we will use a name that better represents our mission: the Substance Use Policy, Education, and Recovery PAC. The SUPERPAC has big plans for the coming year, and we look forward to partnering with you to improve the lives of Rhode Islanders.

Lisa Peterson