Addiction stigma is a public health issue

Released on 31st August 2020

Community health organisation cohealth is using International Overdose Awareness Day to highlight the damaging impacts of addiction stigma on people who use drugs and alcohol.

International Overdose Awareness Day, observed yearly on 31 August, is a global effort to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths.

“It is too easy to judge people who use drugs. It’s more productive to prevent and tackle drug use in a safe, effective and practical way,” said Nicole Bartholomeusz, CE, cohealth.

“The stigma and demonisation of drug use is a public health issue that contributes to poor mental health, reduced access to healthcare, and reluctance to seek and attend treatment,” she said.

“cohealth’s focus is on making individuals and families safer and healthier and providing non-judgemental support,” said Ms Bartholomeusz.

As one of Victoria’s largest community health organisations, cohealth provides a range of specialist health care and harm reduction support services including:

  • Medicines to help people who are withdrawing from drugs and alcohol
  • Provision of naloxone, and naloxone training to quickly and safely reverse heroin overdose
  • Needle and syringe programs that ensure people can access clean equipment and reduce blood borne virus transmission
  • Alcohol and drug counselling

“Access to specialist drug and alcohol services saves lives. It reduces the harmful impacts of drug use on the person using as well as the broader community,” said Ms Bartholomeusz.

In 2017, there were more than 1,000 unintentional drug-induced deaths in Australia (Penington Institute, 2019).

cohealth provides drug and alcohol services at various sites across north-west Melbourne, including Central City (CBD), Innerspace (Fitzroy) and Health Works (Footscray) as well as a range of outreach services.

Case study

cohealth client Frank* 50, had been battling drug addiction and homelessness for decades when he first came to cohealth’s Central City clinic in 2017.

Frank had experienced trauma after a serious car accident where he broke his neck, and losing both his parents within a year. Like many people who have experienced trauma, he started using alcohol and drugs to numb the pain.

It is now three years since Frank sought out rehabilitation treatment with the support of cohealth. With the help of pharmacotherapy treatment Frank has been able to avoid relapse.

“I found people at cohealth who had faith in me,” says Frank.

Life has changed dramatically for Frank since he started treatment. His worker helped him get into community housing in the CBD, where Frank has been living since early 2020.

He continues to visit the Central City clinic weekly to see his social worker, GPs and physiotherapist.

“I don’t want to let myself down, but I also don’t want to let my workers down. They’ve changed my life,” he says. “If it wasn’t for cohealth, I wouldn’t be alive now.”

“It’s my three year anniversary of being drug-free. Every six months I go out to lunch with my worker to celebrate. I joke that I’m a three year old, because after years of being numb, I’m seeing and smelling things for the first time.” he says.

Success stories like Frank’s are possible because of the range of drug and alcohol services cohealth is able to provide.

— Ends —

more information:  Lanie Harris 0418 552 377

More on cohealth:

cohealth is a Victorian not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all. It provides universal access to services as well as targeted programs and assertive models to address the health disparities experienced by disadvantaged groups. cohealth offers a broad range of high quality, integrated health and support services, including medical oral, pharmacy, mental health and drug and alcohol services.

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