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Opinion Reduce the stigma to help people with substance use disorder

A billboard on Aug. 7 in Arkansas. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

As the Biden administration’s former acting director of the National Drug Control Office, I appreciated the article pointing to ways health-care providers can better care for patients they label “difficult” (“When doctors dislike patients, quality of care might go down,” Health, July 5). With record rates of overdose death in the United States, more than 100,000 deaths in 2021 alone, hospitals and emergency departments provide a critically important intervention point for people at risk of overdosing. However, stigma and a lack of addiction training for physicians can stand in the way of proper care for people with substance use disorder.

Surveys of physicians and other health-care professionals provide evidence of their reluctance to treat individuals with addiction. This reluctance too often results in stigmatizing attitudes, which can prevent people from seeking treatment. Studies have shown that people with substance use disorder who experience stigma are less likely to seek treatment.

The article failed to mention one answer to improving patient care: educating all health-care professionals on the principles of harm-reduction and evidence-based treatment. Legislation pending on Capitol Hill, if enacted, would mandate addiction education for holders of a controlled-substances license.

To reduce the grim death toll of overdose deaths in this country, we must do all we can to get people with substance use disorder the care they need.

Regina M. LaBelle, Takoma Park

The writer is director of the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative at the Georgetown University Law Center’s O’Neill Institute.

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