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Addiction not just an issue of will power: launch effort against stigma of substance use disorders

Addiction not just an issue of will power: Dunn, Kohl-Welles to launch effort against stigma of substance use disorders

King County Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn and Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles on Thursday introduced legislation to establish a communications campaign to combat stigma related to substance use disorder. This comes as fatal overdoses continue to rise throughout the county and amid reports of double digit increases in addiction and substance use by the Centers for Disease Control.

“As we learned at my recent conference, the commonly-held belief that addiction is simply an issue of will power is not supported by the science and discounts the experience of people who are struggling to recover,” Dunn said. “Addiction is a physical disease that can be treated, but when society says otherwise, the recovery process can be much more difficult.”

The legislation stems from the April 14 King County Conference on Addiction Recovery hosted by Dunn, where participants learned about the science of addiction, best practices for recovery, the impacts of stigmatization, and much more.

If approved, the motion would call on the King County Executive to implement a public awareness campaign about the efficacy of treatment for substance use disorders.

“It’s essential that individuals with substance use disorder be able to seek treatment safely through public health resources. Unfortunately, the current stigma around addiction poses a distinct barrier for people to feel safe which can thwart efforts to recover,” Kohl-Welles said. “Addiction affects individuals and families across all demographics. My husband and I have family members who have died by drug overdose and others who were dependent on prescription meds. This campaign, in partnership with Public Health—Seattle & King County, has the potential to be life-changing for many and I am hopeful that it will encourage folks all around our region to see addiction as what it is: a public health issue.”

The anti-stigmatization campaign would include a review of local overdose data trends and existing stigma research. It would also share stories of recovery from those with lived experience in addiction and promote various treatment pathways. Community engagement would be conducted through interviews with key stakeholders, surveys, and focus groups with the target audience to inform the campaign development for maximum effectiveness.

The legislation will be referred next week to the Community, Health, and Housing Services Committee.



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