Substance Abuse and Overdose Prevention PAC

Blog posts

No more NIMBY

In our last blog post, we talked about the ways in which language can contribute to stigma. Stigma is often responsible for preventing people from getting treatment for their substance use disorder, and people who use stigmatizing language contribute to this problem. It is not enough to simply change the words we use to describe a condition, however. We have an obligation to follow through with our actions, and create systemic change.

In May 2018 Governor Raimondo partnered with former Congressman Patrick Kennedy to sign an executive order to ensure parity in treatment for behavioral health conditions. This order requires that both treatment copays, the availability of providers, and the standards of care are in line with the expectations for other medical conditions provided by physicians. This helped continue a budding paradigm shift among providers and the community, who are recognizing the need to create an accessible and holistic healthcare system.

Illustrating this shift in thinking about substance use and substance use disorders are the legislators, public officials, government employees, public health experts, treatment experts, and recovery experts who have demonstrated support for opioid treatment and recovery. They’ve increased funds, changed laws, sponsored bills, attended community forums, and are publicly declaring that they stand with us in demanding that we do better as a system.

Despite the changing conversation around these issues, behaviors lag behind. This is most evident when we are faced with the phenomenon of “not in my backyard”, or “NIMBY”. Those who vocalize support for recovery efforts and treatment for Rhode Islanders with behavioral health needs often pause when such a program is proposed in their ‘backyard’. This response further perpetuates the fear-based stigma that keeps people sick and suffering. We need services and supports available anywhere substance use is a concern -- which is everywhere. Substance use disorder does not discriminate, and nor should we in addressing it.

Imagine working up the courage to seek treatment, and finding a provider that had picketers in front of their doors. Would you feel supported, or even welcome, in your community? What does getting well look like when your doctor is on the other side of a picket line? Is that an accessible healthcare system?

Personal stories matter in our work, especially here in Rhode Island. Individuals frequently share their stories with us, and we are listening. These stories point to systemic issues when we’re talking about recovery. One of the common themes that we hear in the community is that of discrimination and fear. Recovery can be intimidating enough. We should not have to also face protest and rejection where we are seeking support and treatment.

We are fortunate to have a variety of treatment options available to individuals throughout Rhode Island. One common, evidence-based treatment intervention includes the use of specific medication(s) to assist in managing opioid withdrawal symptoms, reducing the cravings associated with opioid use disorder, and blocking the effects of opioids. These effects combine to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence of opioid use, simultaneously saving lives and allowing the individual to build ‘recovery capital’ for sustained remission.

Part of our mission is to provide education to legislators, so that they can respond effectively and factually to the concerns of their constituents. We call upon our elected officials to stand with us, advocating for innovative, integrated, and evidence-based approaches to the substance use epidemic in our state. This includes helping reduce the stigma in their communities, providing facts in the face of fear, reminding residents that this is not an issue ‘over there’, but is impacting our friends and neighbors across Rhode Island. If you stand for recovery, we need you to stand for treatment too.

Lisa Petersonstigma, treatment, NIMBY