Regional leaders hope to eliminate stigma surrounding addiction treatment

The inaugural ‘Regional Opioid Summit’ was hosted at the National Corvette Museum.
The inaugural ‘Regional Opioid Summit’ was hosted at the National Corvette Museum.
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 6:47 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - In an effort to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic, leaders from across the Commonwealth gathered at the National Corvette Museum for the inaugural Regional Opioid Summit.

A coalition created by the Barren River Area Development District, Barren River Health Department, Med Center Health, and LifeSkills, Inc. brought the region’s law enforcement, judge executives, city officials, and addiction recovery professionals together to create work groups meant to combat opioid addiction.

It was mentioned throughout the event that an essential step will be the widespread de-stigmatization of addiction services.

“That stigma, even after treatment is done, can lead to difficulty in finding a job, can lead to isolationism, which can lead back to addiction again,” said Doug Griffiths, the event’s keynote speaker and a former Canadian policymaker. “Eliminating that stigma helps people reintegrate back into the community better and feel more welcomed, which frankly, it’s a bit of the isolation we feel that keeps us roving in the addiction and not asking for help so eliminating that stigma is one of the biggest benefits to helping the treatment take hold and become more permanent.”

Griffiths has partnered with communities across North America, bringing his presentation, 13 Ways to Kill Your Community, to the forefront. He’s seen firsthand the impact of shifting the narrative of addiction from a criminal offense to a healthcare necessity.

Local addiction care professionals say that while conversations surrounding treatment are essential, communities must also prioritize prevention and education.

“I think a lot of folks maybe feel that there’s really nothing I can do to move this in a meaningful way, but I think if we heard anything today, especially from the keynote speaker. If you really come together as a community and work together you can tackle these problems, but prevention in the beginning is always the most important,” said Joe Dan Beavers, CEO of LifeSkills, Inc. “If we do that part right, then the treatment and recovery parts don’t have to happen.”

Much of Griffiths’ presentation focused on the need for rural communities to acknowledge a need for change, and accepting the necessity of working with surrounding communities to create that change. Eric Hagan, vice president of rural hospitals for Med Center Health, echoed that sentiment and hopes to see positive change enacted by next year.

“So, next year, our goal would be to have work groups in place, looking at prevention, treatment, recovery, and assurance of care,” said Hagan. “And then hopefully have some strategic goals and objectives defined to be able to come back and present some of the progress that’s been made so that people understand that this is a worthwhile effort and reason.”

Those who are in a mental health or addiction crisis are encouraged to dial 988 to connect with a 24/7 helpline that will direct them to a local resource relevant to their crisis.