HANYS Opioid Summit focuses on reducing stigma, sharing treatment success stories

September 24, 2019 07:19 PM

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Health care experts from across the state gathered in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday for the Health Association of New York State's (HANYS) Opioid Summit.

One of the biggest topics addressed was reducing the stigma associated with substance use. One way to do that is by changing the language used when talking about it.

For example, HANYS officials said describing someone as a person with a substance disorder as opposed to an addict or junkie is preferred. They said changing commonly used phrases like "battling" or "suffering" from an addiction to "living" with an addiction can also help reduce stigma.

Bethany Medley is a research assistant at New York University and an adjunct professor at Columbia University. She was also a speaker at the summit on Tuesday. While giving her presentation, Medley told the audience that she used heroin between the ages of 17 and 22.

Medley said working with those living with substance use disorders is helping officials establish more effective treatment. Though she said she believes it should have been done years ago.

"We’re seeing more policy attention because more of a privileged white population are being impacted. Now they're like, ‘Oh let’s listen to them and not criminalize them,’" Medley said. "Which is really, really unfortunate so that's why I emphasize my saying, I use my lived experience to help advocate for others so that we can start carving pathways so more people will have that opportunity to speak and share their expertise."

Loretta Willis, the vice president of HANYS Quality and Research Divisions, said this is an issue that has affected all classes, ages, genders and races. She said there is no one size fits all solution, because each individual in need of treatment is different.

Willis said that’s why these summits are so helpful, because they are able to invite the best of the best in the health care industry to share their successes and their failures. Their goal is to share what works in certain areas and identify what types of treatments can benefit patients in similar situations.

"Treatment is all about people and it's all about meeting people where they are. Unless we do that, we are not going to have success in tackling this one person at a time," Willis said.

Dr. Paul Updike is the Medical Director of Substance Use Services for the Catholic Health System in Buffalo. He said he specifically began working with expectant mothers living with substance use disorders about 10 years ago.

Updike said at that time there really wasn't anyone else taking care of them in that area. He also began training primary care doctors so they would be able to offer the best treatments for those living with a substance use disorder.

Updike said he likes attending the summits because he's able to learn how treatment plans could be modified and implemented elsewhere.

He said he's also still helping primary care doctors catch up to the level of care he's helped create in Buffalo.

"My goal is to really try to find providers who can give this level of care, so medical providers. So that really is probably the most gratifying thing is teaching providers to be able to give this level of care mentoring them so that they can kind of expand," Updike said.

MORE INFORMATION: CDC on opioid use disorders


WNYT Staff

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