Chris Christie: Fighting Stigma is Crucial to Defeating Drug Crisis

By Victoria Kim 12/27/17

The outgoing governor believes that once stigma is removed, people impacted by the drug crisis will take to the streets and demand a government response.

Chris Christie

The conversation about addiction has changed. There’s more compassion, more legislation, and support in favor of treating people living with what we now call “substance use disorder.” But stigma against people who use drugs is still alive and well, and it is hindering efforts to alleviate the drug crisis, said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

“We will have seen that we’ve begun to remove the stigma of this disease when the people who are impacted are willing to show their face and march and demand, from their government, a response,” said Christie, whose term as governor ends in January. “They don’t march today because they are ashamed to march, because they don’t want to be identified.”

The governor compared the opioid crisis to the AIDS/HIV crisis during the ‘80s and ‘90s. “People considered AIDS, if you remember, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic as something people did to themselves,” he said in April. “We have the same feeling today about drug abuse—if you never tried it in the first place you wouldn’t have these problems. We rejected that approach with HIV/AIDS and we need today to reject that approach on the treatment of drug abuse.”

Christie reiterated this point, explaining that stigma still prevents many people from getting help. The Washington Times cited a 2014 survey that showed that 1 in 10 people in need of treatment will receive it; while a fifth of people who use drugs say they do not feel comfortable seeking help for substance use disorder because of a fear that they will be shunned.

But slowly, the addiction/recovery community is coming out of the “shadows,” so to speak, through outlets like The Fix and I Am Not Anonymous, a unique project that’s taking back the addiction/recovery narrative by putting faces and names to every story.

Shatterproof is another organization that works to change the conversation and “reduce the stigma and secrecy” about substance use disorder.

“We need to tell more and more stories of successful people who are in recovery,” said Shatterproof CEO Gary Mendell, according to the Washington Times. “I think society is starting to get it, but I think we need to get more and more stories out there.”

Mendell lost his own son to suicide in 2011. He knows firsthand the damage that stigma can cause. “He did not overdose. Tragically, he took his own life. He hadn’t used a substance in 13 months, but he took his own life. It was all about shame and stigma,” said Mendell.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr