Real Life. Real News. Real Voices.
Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard.
Join HuffPost Plus
Healthy Living

What Happened In East Liverpool Is Not Stigma -- It Is Discrimination

Scare tactics don't work, haven't we learned that yet?

Post contains graphic images.

As many have already reported, the East Liverpool Police Department posted an image (along with their “objective” commentary) of a couple experiencing drug poisoning, reportedly due to heroin use. This likely comes as no surprise to many in Ohio, or any other state and community in the United States. We have been in the midst of the largest public health concern to ever take place in our country ― the opioid and opiate crisis.

August 31st was International Overdose Awareness Day ― just over a week prior. On that day, many across the United States changed social media profile pictures to “129 a day,” a number often cited for the number of individuals dying from an accidental drug poisoning death in this country (often linked to opioid and opiates). More recent data suggests this number has climbed to over 160 a day. You might ask yourself, how then, would it be possible that the world (unless you have chosen a hermit lifestyle, in the recesses of the backwoods of Colorado) does not know of the tragic horrors associated with drug use? If you were to listen to the message from the East Liverpool Police Department, it was necessary to “ the other side of this horrible drug...” No matter which statistic you use, more people have died from this crisis than any of us can fathom, and we are all impacted by it. We all know the realities of substance use disorders, how it destroys human life, and causes harm to those both directly involved and at the fringe.

What the East Liverpool Police Department should perhaps learn is that not enough of the world actually knows about the other side of substance use disorders ― recovery. That is the message that should be promulgated in every community, in Ohio and worldwide.

People do not need to see a couple experiencing a drug poisoning incident to realize the horrors of the opioid and opiate crisis in this country. The imagery, while alarming, is punitive and blaming in nature (and antithetical to the prevention message the department thought it might provide ― scare tactics don’t work, haven’t we learned that yet?).

People with substance use disorders are not animals at a zoo, and are certainly not a cog in the voyeuristic machine that is often modern day America. Is what happened awful? Of course it is ― there was a baby in the car. Was it wrong that the parents did such a thing? Again, of course it was. However, this “expose” is more reminiscent of 1980s and 90s “war on drugs” material than it is to the public health approach we must strive to take. For those of you old enough to remember, we have tried the same approach taken above just a few short decades ago. It did not work then, and it will not work now.

This is not stigma; this is not political correct culture gone wrong; this is, and should be labeled, discrimination against a segment of the American population. To call it anything but discrimination is to argue on a faulty premise. When will we take a stand? We are not chattel, second class citizens - we are human beings. If you must, punish the couple for child endangerment - but do so AFTER you have given them an opportunity to recover from the bio-psycho-social illness which they are contending with. That is an appropriate response; a human response.