Report: Stigma against people living with addiction entrenched in Pa. | Tuesday Morning Coffee

Hard hit by the opioid epidemic, Pa. residents take a dim view of people struggling with addiction

April 5, 2022 7:12 am

A crowd gathers on the Capitol steps to remember loved ones lost to opioid, substance abuse. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

(*This post was updated at 7:38 a.m. on Tuesday, 4/5/22 to include the names of the other companies that participated in the research.)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

A sprawling, nationwide poll reveals “entrenched” negative views of people who suffer from substance use disorder, or who are in recovery, with some of the most strongly held views coming from Pennsylvania.

When they compared the states with “statistically significant and comparable numbers of respondents, Pennsylvania had the highest reported level of stigma, while Illinois had the lowest reported level of stigma,” researchers from a trio of of organizations, including the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance (PRO-A). *The others were the consulting firm Elevyst, and the data company RIWI.

The Pennsylvania group partnered with two other organizations to conduct the online canvass of more than 30,000 people nationwide. Pennsylvania was among six states that had large enough sample sizes — more than 500 respondents per-state — “to confidently allow for cross-state comparisons,” researchers wrote. The other states were California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas.

In Pennsylvania, researchers found that:

  • More than seven in 10 Pennsylvania respondents (70.9%) said they believed people who use drugs were less reliable than most people or were completely unreliable, researchers said. That compared to the 53.1% to 62.6% of respondents in other states who said the same thing.
  • Nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania respondents (73.2%) said they believed society viewed addiction as “at least somewhat shameful” compared to the 63.6% to 69.4% of respondents in other states who responded the same way.

Nationally, researchers found that:

  • “71 percent of respondents believe that society at large considers individuals who use drugs problematically to be outcasts or non-community members, which deters people with severe substance use disorders from accessing lifesaving help.
  • “74 percent of respondents believed that society at large views individuals who use drugs problematically as somewhat, mostly, or entirely responsible for their drug use.
  • “73 percent of respondents believed that society at large views individuals who are dependent on drugs as having moderate, low, or no chance of maintaining recovery.
  • “Higher stigma indices were found in the low-middle and upper-middle class than the poorest and richest demographics; for white people than non-white people; for women than men; for older people than younger people; and for city residents than suburban or rural residents,” and
  • “High stigma perception was the most common among whites, self-identified Christians, and self-identified conservatives.”

The spread between state-level respondents “indicate[s] that there is more perceived stigma in Pennsylvania relative to other states; however, the stigma is nonetheless widespread, and in many cases there are no differences across states on individual stigma items,” the report’s authors wrote, adding that “interventions that are created, implemented, and tested in Pennsylvania very well could be modified, administered, and effective across the United States.”

The result is all the more striking given that Pennsylvania was among the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. From 2020 to 2021, during much of the pandemic-induced lockdowns, Pennsylvania recorded 5,089 drug overdose deaths. That number is second only to 2017, according to state Department of Health data, the Capital-Star’s Cassie Miller reported in February.

Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith
Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

Those deeply held views can have far-reaching effects on people living with addiction or who are in recovery, the report’s authors noted.

“Stigma is an important barrier to quality of life for people with a history of addiction, impacting the ability to seek medical care, addiction treatment, and social services; it also makes effective policy change more difficult,” the organizations said in a statement. “The survey convincingly showed that, despite major efforts from the governmental and nonprofit sectors, stigma is still elevated and common.”

In February, Pennsylvania officials launched an effort aimed at dispelling those negative perceptions, as they urged people to take advantage of a free, online educational tool designed to inform, and provide them with guidance on  substance use disorder, the Capital-Star previously reported.

The online learning platform, known as Just Five, launched in May 2021 as a way to improve Pennsylvanians’ understanding of addiction and substance use disorder, reduce the stigma surrounding the disease, and provide individuals with helpful resources.

“By improving our own understanding of this disease we can better understand others who may be at risk,” state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith said at the time.

In a statement, PRO-A’s executive director, William Stauffer, offered a similar sentiment.

“While we have made progress in America elevating recovery and making it easier to acknowledge that we can and do recover, our survey shows we have a long way to go until we live in a stigma-free society. We are working together to move towards that critical goal,” Stauffer said.

Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stuart Ulsh, a Republican, testifies during a Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

Our Stuff.
More than a month after appearing before the Pennsylvania Senate committee that’s investigating past elections, Fulton County Commissioner Stuart Ulsh signed an affidavit to ‘clarify’ statements he made during a September hearing, Marley Parish reports.

As the Pennsylvania Senate returned to session this week, advocates gathered in Harrisburg to again urge chamber leadership to pass legislation that would open a two-year window for child sex abuse survivors to pursue civil lawsuits against their abusers. Marley Parish also has the details here.

With lawmakers being one vote shy of overriding a veto from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, the Republican-controlled Senate failed to approve an attempt to block Pennsylvania from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Monday, Marley Parish further reports.

Two Chesapeake Bay restoration programs are set to see a bump in funding as part of President Joe Biden’s $5.8 trillion 2023 fiscal year budget, which the administration unveiled last week, Cassie Miller reports.

When the Allegheny County Democratic Committee made its endorsements for the May 17 primary last month, it snubbed three progressive, incumbent women. It wasn’t unfamiliar territory, Correspondent Kim Lyons reports in a story for our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper.

Eligible Philadelphians are currently leaving over $600 million on the table in unclaimed federal and state benefits. And at-large City Councilmember Alan Domb has one question: ‘How can I help get this money into the hands of the people who needed it the most?’ Our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune have the story.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Opinion regular Michael Coard makes note of the 107th birthday of famed Philadelphia attorney Cecil B. Moore. And writing for our sibling site, the Missouri Independent, columnist Janice Ellis says the biggest threat to American democracy is coming from within.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman [Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller]

The Inquirer looks at the attacks on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman as the Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate enters its final weeks and wonders whether they’ll matter.

WHYY-FM delves into the personal finances of the U.S. Senate hopefuls.

Voters in Pittsburgh head to the polls in a pair of special state House electionsThe Post-Gazette has the details.

Central Pennsylvania state House candidate David Buell tells PennLive he’s battling fake tweets and online smear campaign.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-11th District, has said no thanks to funding for local projects in a massive federal spending bill, LancasterOnline reports.

Lehigh County’s district attorney says many people broke the law by dropping off multiple ballots in the 2021 election, but none will be prosecuted, the Morning Call reports.

Acting Luzerne County Manager Romilda Crocamo has withdrawn from consideration for the permanent post, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

Rising COVID cases in Philly are getting close to triggering a return to masking requirementsWHYY-FM also reports.

An Afghan surgeon who helped U.S. forces abroad is looking for a fresh start in ErieGoErie reports.

The U.S. House Rules Committee has formally recommended that ex-Trump administration aides Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro be held in contempt of CongressRaw Story reports.

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What Goes On
The Senate comes in at 1 p.m. today.
10 a.m., 461 Main Capitol: Senate Labor & Industry Committee
10 a.m., 8E-B East Wing: Senate Law & Justice Committee
11:30 a.m., 461 Main Capitol: Senate Consumer & Professional Licensure Committee
11:30 a.m., 8E-A East Wing: Senate State Government Committee
12 p.m., 8E-B East Wing: Senate Judiciary Committee
12:30 p.m., 461 Main Capitol: Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee
Off the Floor: Senate Appropriations Committee
In the House:
1 p.m., G50 Irvis: House State Government Committee, subcommittee on Public Pensions, Benefits and Risk Management

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Scott Hutchinson
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Wayne Fontana
11:30 a.m.: Luncheon for Sen. Scott Martin
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Dan Laughlin
5:30 p.m.: Reception for GOP governor candidate, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out aa truly offensive $23,500 today.

As is his custom, Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh at 8:07 a.m. this morning.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Best wishes go out this morning to Nate Wardle, at the Pennsylvania Dept. of Health, and Adrienne Standley, at the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s some new music from Maximo Park, it’s ‘All of Me,’ from their new long-player ‘Nature Always Wins.’

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Toronto’s Auston Matthews notched a hat trick, as the ‘Leafs bested the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2 on Monday night, extending their win streak to five games.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.