The Stigma of Opioid Addiction Must Change; TeleMAT is Making it Happen

Far too many Americans possess a negative stereotype about opioid addiction.

For instance, many people wrongly equate addicts with the homeless. A CNN report reveals this mindset. Their reporting on the homeless epidemic in San Francisco[1] leads with a description of a woman who abuses heroin 10 times a day, then describes drug usage in the middle of the day on a busy urban street: “About 50 yards away, a man injects another woman in the neck with a needle. She puts her thumb in her mouth and blows on it to make her vein more visible. Her right arm is caked with dried blood.”

Another rampant stereotype about opioid addiction suggests this problem primarily takes place in the trailer parks of the nation’s rural areas. After all, Oxycontin is nicknamed “Hillbilly Heroin” on the mistaken belief that opioid abuse is most common in lower-status communities[2].

The fact is, both stereotypes about opioid addicts are demonstrably false. The CDC reports about 10.5 million Americans abused opioids in 2019[3], a number that is certain to rise in the era of COVID-19 lockdowns as the public continue to be separated from one another and daily anxieties mount.

Even so, these stark figures aren’t driven by inner-city homeless shooting up heroin nor rural individuals abusing pills. The truth of the opioid crisis is it devastates all races, all classes, and people of all occupations. In this manner, opioid addiction is an equal opportunity offender prone to destroy the life of the prosperous executive just as easily as the average person living on the street.

The CDC has starkly illustrated this fact through a collection of personal stories of opioid addicts and their families[4]. The narratives are heart wrenching, but essential reading. Consider the story of David[5], who founded a multi-million-dollar investment firm before he was prescribed opioids whilst recovering from knee surgery.

David’s tragic addiction cost him his luxurious lifestyle, his wife, and even his freedom—he ended up serving five years in federal prison. Clearly, David does not fit into the stereotypes of opioid addicts as described above, but he was addicted, nevertheless. Viewed through a macro lens, David represents millions of wealthy, middle-class, and/or working-class Americans that do not fit the negative stereotypes many of us hold of addicts.

Even though many opioid addicts are otherwise upright citizens who might have been introduced to their addiction as innocently as being handed a doctor’s prescription, tremendous social stigma persists around addiction. Pernicious as it is, this negative viewpoint is unwarranted. In many respects, those individuals battling addiction are victims of so many drug companies spending more than a decade marketing harmful medications to both doctors and patients. One study by Boston University shows such promotions have a clear connection to prescription rates and fatal overdoses on a county-by-county basis[6].

What’s worse, the social stigma surrounding opioid addiction devastates the people that most deserve our compassion—Americans of all walks of life working so hard to improve their situation and leave opioids in their past. Of course, patients battling opioid addiction via traditional means are used to settling for poor treatment, like long commutes to clinics, interminable waits for medication, and less than compassionate consideration from clinic staff.

Rightly so, these patients seek a better treatment option, and our team at QuickMD has delivered one in the form of telehealth called teleMAT. Already, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has become the treatment of choice for many Americans battling opioid addiction[7]. A safe and effective protocol, it helps end the dependance on opioids while also cutting down on withdrawal symptoms. Also, our medical team believe it establishes a higher standard of care for our patients by treating them with compassion and listening attentively to their story. Patients tend to feel less stigma about their addiction when they are dealing with expert MAT physicians who understand the complex dynamics of opioid addiction.

MAT has quickly risen to prominence as a viable alternative to Methadone because of its record of safety and success to such an extent the ACLU sued the state of Washington after its bureau of prisons attempted to deny inmates from receiving the treatment[8]. For many Americans fighting opioid addiction, MAT has been a veritable Godsend, but now teleMAT is taking this revolutionary treatment to the next level by reducing barriers to treatment.

As wins over opioid addiction continue to pile up, one thing has become resoundingly clear. Patients have better chances for addiction recovery when they aren’t burdened by the stigma of their friends and neighbors.

Telemedicine ensures their privacy; patients can even conduct their medical sessions from inside their car to maintain a comfortable level of discretion. Additionally, the teleMAT model erases any need for a long drive to be seen at a clinic, long waits for Methadone, and the concern others will judge them despite the fact they are working so hard to end their addiction. Along with privacy and convenience, our team has built a model on compassion and attentiveness for our patients to help patients achieve successful outcomes.

Although we alone cannot eradicate the cultural stigma concerning opioid addicts—which only time and social change can do—our team of addiction experts is saving lives and helping patients rebuild their future daily. If you are a physician ready to join the teleMAT revolution, please contact QuickMD to learn more.   

Authors:

Jared Sheehan: Jared is the Chief Operating Officer at QuickMD. He is a serial entrepreneur who has worked at the intersection of social impact and technology for the last decade. Prior to QuickMD, he was a senior consultant at Deloitte Consulting in their Social Impact Strategy practice. Jared is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and has deep healthcare experience, including the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Aurora Healthcare, Neeka Healthcare, Scripps research, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Jared is the winner of the FDA Naloxone App Competition. Jared graduated Summa Cum Laude from Miami University.

Dr. Concepcion Martinez, MD: Completed her medical school at University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio. She has over 20 years of medical experience. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and is passionate about Addiction Medicine. She had a family member addicted to illicit drugs and personally witnessed the effects of drugs on her family. She hopes to give her patients the chance to live a productive and happy life again by empowering patients through education and engagement in their treatment.

Michael Ashley: Michael Ashley is a contributing writer for QuickMD and the author of more than 30 books, including four bestsellers. A former Disney screenwriter and current professional speaker, he is also a columnist with Forbes and Entrepreneur, covering medical applications of AI and Big Data. Beyond contributing to these publications, Michael has written for the HuffPostFast Company, the IEEE, the United Nations' ITU News, the Orange County Business JournalThe California Business JournalNewsbase, and the Orange County Register. He has also been featured in Entertainment Weekly, Fox Sports, and KTLA.

 

[1] https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/27/health/drug-use-san-francisco-streets/index.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/jun/25/usa.julianborger

[3] https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/opioid-crisis-statistics/index.html

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/rxawareness/stories/index.html

[5] https://www.cdc.gov/rxawareness/stories/david.html

[6] https://www.bu.edu/articles/2019/opioid-marketing/

[7] https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment

[8] https://www.aclu-wa.org/news/bureau-prisons-sued-refusing-let-people-opioid-use-disorder-stay-their-prescribed-medication

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