UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Consortium on Substance Use and Addiction’s (CSUA) hosted the first annual Substance Use Disorder Stigma Reduction Summit recently at the HUB-Robeson Center in University Park. Organized by the Substance Use Stigma Reduction Collaborative, the event brought in researchers, practitioners and government partners from across Pennsylvania and the nation to consider research, policy and practice around the issue of stigma reduction in numerous fields like criminal justice and healthcare.
The summit’s keynote speaker, Alex Elswick, assistant professor and extension specialist for substance use prevention and recovery at the University of Kentucky, spoke about his own recovery experience. Elswick is a trained researcher, recovery coach, and mental health therapist, as well as the co-founder of Voices of Hope, a peer-driven recovery community organization.
Elswick discussed the concept of recovery capital, natural recovery, and how language matters when it comes to destigmatizing the disease of addiction. In particular, he noted that many people in recovery hold the self-limiting belief that they "don’t deserve a better job” and end up working in retail or food service, and that is something that Elswick believes needs to change.
“I was homeless for a while, and the people I met while I was homeless were some of the most helpful, non-judgmental people I have ever met. They told me where to get a free hot meal and a free shower,” Elswick said. “But I was suffering, wanted to quit [substance use], and I couldn’t quit.”
Following the keynote speaker’s speech, there were three rounds of presentations from researchers, practitioners and government partners about their work around stigma reduction efforts. The presentations covered a wide variety of topics and audiences from training programs for first responders, recovery-friendly workplaces, using storytelling to reduce stigma, and many more.
Established in 2018 and housed in the Social Science Research Institute, CSUA is a multidisciplinary network of researchers, educators and practitioners that work together to address the systemic problems of the opioid epidemic, substance use and addiction.
The Substance Use Stigma Reduction Collaborative is a working group established by Consortium on Substance Use and Addiction consisting of academic scholars, professionals, and practitioners throughout Penn State University. The mission of the collaborative is to examine and understand stigma toward substance use to identify ways to reduce its impacts.