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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Opioid Epidemic: How Language Stigmatizes Addiction
by Sharman, Anu, D.B.A., University of Maryland University College, 2019, 104; 27737709
Abstract (Summary)

There are 23 million individuals who meet the criteria for a substance use disorder in the

U.S., and the economic cost attributable to substance use from lost productivity, healthcare

expenditures, and criminal justice involvement is about $600 billion annually (Kelly, Saitz, &

Wakeman, 2016). However, only a small fraction of individuals receive some form of help for

their substance use disorder in any given year. One of the barriers to seeking and receiving help

is stigma. In addition, higher stigma towards individuals with opioid use disorder is associated

with greater public support for punitive policies and lower support for health-oriented policies

such as increased government spending.

Patients with addiction continue to suffer from the stigma associated with the disease.

They fear judgment and mistreatment when they encounter the medical system. Research

revealed that one contributory factor to the perpetuation of stigma is the type of language we use.

Language is a powerful force in modifying attitudes and behavior among the public, health

professionals, and policy makers. Moreover, the terminology used by the press determines the

terminology used and the views held by the general population, politicians, and civil servants.

Through the lens of stigma theory and labeling theory, this study used a systematic review of the

literature to answer the question: What is the role of language in stigmatizing or destigmatizing

opioid addiction? The evidence indicated that there are several opportunities for language to

impact the stigma of addiction: in individual language, the media, healthcare providers and

medical records, and in policy and the criminal justice system. Although the scholarly literature

would benefit from additional empirical studies on the relationship between language and opioid

addiction, the existing scholarly literature in addition to grey literature found that using language

that demonstrates an understanding and acceptance of the disease model of addiction will go a

long way toward improving the medical treatment of patients struggling with this challenging

disease. The community and the media can be informed through communication strategies,

which could include sympathetic narratives, messages without blame, and messages highlighting

structural barriers. Increasing public support for policies and raising awareness by providing

information to promote change can help facilitate legislative policy advocacy. Change in the

workplace culture that reduces stigma and supports recovery can be implemented by training

employers and employees to understand that opioid addiction is preventable and treatable.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Breckon, Denise
Commitee: Sherlock, John, Wagner, Debra
School: University of Maryland University College
Department: School of Business
School Location: United States -- Maryland
Source: DAI-A 81/9(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Business administration, Behavioral psychology
Keywords: Addiction, Drug misuse, Language, Opioids, Stigma, Terminology
Publication Number: 27737709
ISBN: 9781658453004
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