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Stop stigmatizing people with substance abuse disorders

Participals hold electric candles as they participate in the annual Shine a Light on Recovery program at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Bel Air. The event was held to raise awareness of substance abuse and to remember those who have died from it in Harford County. File.
Participals hold electric candles as they participate in the annual Shine a Light on Recovery program at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Bel Air. The event was held to raise awareness of substance abuse and to remember those who have died from it in Harford County. File. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

Janice Lynch Schuster’s insightful and empathic commentary (“People are not defined by their diseases,” Oct. 14) is must-reading for anyone whose family has not experienced the stigma and pain of the opioid epidemic.

Ms. Schuster emphasizes how the lack of understanding of substance use disorder as a bona fide disease results in the unfortunate use of labels like “junkie” and “druggie.” Such inaccurate characterizations recall the aphorism, “labels fare for jelly jars, not people.” A more informed description is a person with a substance use disorder.

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The accidental and tragic overdose of Ms. Schuster’s son is one of the 70,000 of America’s annual drug fatalities. Yet, it is important for all of us to know is that treatment often does work and people do recover and rebuild their lives and families.

Two of my immediate family members, after years of heroin and opioid use disorder, now are sober, in recovery and have full-time jobs and healthy, productive lives. Eliminating stigmatizing language and labels will help others find treatment and recovery.

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Don Mathis, Havre de Grace

The writer is co-chair of the substance use leadership team of Doctors for America.

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