Gov. Wolf, IBC announce new campaign to fight stigma surrounding opioid addiction

A bucket of used heroin needles that were collected over two months around McPherson Square library in Philadelphia, PA on May 18, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Gov. Wolf and Independence Blue Cross officials announced Tuesday a new public awareness and education campaign to combat the stigma of addiction.

Led by Pennsylvania State University’s Justice Center for Research and funded by Independence Blue Cross (IBC) Foundation, the campaign will use social media and community outreach to let people affected by the opioid epidemic to share their experiences.

The hope, officials said, is to get more people to seek help.

“There’s too many people dying from this disease,” said Gov. Wolf.

“When people tell their stories, it humanizes the problem of addiction,” said Daniel J. Hilferty, IBC president.

Glenn Sterner, a post-doctoral scholar with Penn State’s justice center, said his researchers will gather the narratives which will be posted online this spring. The stories will be also shared during the summer at community gatherings, along with discussion about the stigma and resources for treatment.

Wolf, IBC officials and Doug Tieman, president of Caron Treatment Centers, also discussed the toll of the epidemic and efforts underway to combat it. In 2016, over 4,600 people died of overdoses in the commonwealth and about 1,700 of those deaths occurred in our region. In Philadelphia, close to 1,200 are expected to die of an overdose by end of this year.

IBC officials said they have taken steps to curtail excessive prescribing of opioids – the most common gateway to addiction and eventual heroin use for many people. IBC has also updated past barriers to treatment, including removing limits on detoxification stays and making it easier for people to obtain some forms of medication-assisted treatment.

Wolf said the state has mounted several efforts, including expanding Medicaid coverage so more people would have access to treatment. Public health officials have also made it easier for people to dispose of unneeded prescription drugs, increased access to overdose reversal medication, and issued prescription guidelines to physicians.

One guest from Bucks County noted that too often people seeking treatment for addiction are told there are no spaces available for them.

Wolf said increased state-funded treatment options have been a start.

“We need more resources,” he said.