Overdose prevention advocates talk stigma during HOPE Forum in Worthington

“Stigma is learned the same way we learn anything else,” said Allie Carey, program director with the Steve Rummler HOPE Network.

Emma Lysne speaks to a crowd about naloxone during the HOPE Forum at the Worthington Event Center Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.
Emma Lysne speaks to a crowd about naloxone during the HOPE Forum at the Worthington Event Center Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

WORTHINGTON — A full crowd was in attendance for the HOPE Forum, hosted at the Worthington Event Center on Thursday.

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Organized by the Steve Rummler HOPE Network in collaboration with local partners, the forum aimed to talk about community-based solutions to Minnesota's overdose crisis.

The event began at 8:30 a.m. with coffee and the opportunity to speak to local partners, advocates and community members about available resources for addressing substance use disorder, or SUD, and the overdose crisis in Greater Minnesota.

Drug overdose is currently the leading cause of accidental death in the United States for people between the ages of 18 and 45, with one death occurring approximately every seven minutes. Overdose deaths involving opioids, particularly synthetic opioids, have continued to rise in recent years. In Minnesota, opioid overdose deaths rose by 26% from 2020 to 2021, with Greater Minnesota seeing a larger rate of increase than the Twin Cities metro area.

Presenters with the Steve Rummler HOPE Network, the Minnesota Cornerstone Treatment Court, and additional advocacy groups spoke in Worthington as part of an ongoing traveling resource event. Throughout the day, attendees heard presentations on topics ranging from harm reduction, and overdose response training, with more than one presentation focusing on the impact stigma plays in addressing SUD.


“Stigma is learned the same way we learn anything else,” said Allie Carey, program director with the SRHN. “It’s a very naturally occurring component of culture. However, it is important for us to unlearn stigma where and when we can and the first step is recognizing its existence and the harm that it can cause.”

Stigma is rooted in three main sources, Carey explained as part of her presentation. Cultural norms, personal experience and media all shape a person’s view of the world around them. When certain beliefs are repeatedly reinforced, perhaps as part of educational curriculum or in common media portrayals, those beliefs can lead to stigmatization.

That stigma can manifest in social or structural ways. In the context of substance use disorder, Carey said, structural stigma can take the form of barriers to adequate health care for people who use drugs, failure to address underlying medical conditions, or overcriminalization of substance use disorder, among others.

“This really locks people into the conditions they’re in, in a systemic way,” Carey said.

While those structural issues can be harder for individuals to address, changing the way people think and talk about substance use disorder can start with something as simple as word choice.

Carey recommends against using words like “addict” and “drug user” and instead shifting language toward more medically-approved phrases like "substance use disorder," which the National Institute of Mental Health defines as a mental disorder that affects a person's brain and behavior, leading to a person's inability to control their use of substances such as legal or illegal drugs, alcohol or medications.

“Ultimately, we always just really want to prioritize the idea of a person-first language,” she added. “That is language that focuses on the person and their personhood, rather than their diagnosis. Their condition or their experience is something they have and not the sum total of who they are.”

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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