What the Election Taught Us About the Future of Stigma

The stigma behind addiction can become all-consuming and ultimately impact a recovering individual’s ability to pursue their full potential. September served as National Recovery month which educates Americans that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with mental and substance use disorders to live healthy and rewarding lives.  As we moved into fall election season, the recovery song was played often by both campaigns.

A person in recovery from a substance use or mental health disorder does not need to be scrutinized by society because addiction is a debilitating disease that takes a lifetime to recover from. People do not become cured, they obtain remission. It is an ongoing journey that requires diligent lifestyle changes that focuses on principles like hope, choice, freedom, and personal aspirations. Those in the addiction treatment and recovery profession have known this for decades, but are leaders and policy makers finally catching on?

Hope is the foundation of recovery. The process of recovery is supported best through relationships and social networks involving family members, friends, and peers. The First Lady, Melania Trump, has strongly advocated on this topic. The First Lady and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) have partnered together to host, “Recovery at Work: Celebrating Connections,” to recognize National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. Mrs. Trump emphasized, “Today, we are here to highlight two important things in recovery: the power of recovery tools and resources in the workplace, and the role personal connection to others plays in achieving sobriety” (Trump, 2020). In her speech at the Republican National Convention she said that she would like to ultimately eliminate the stigma around addiction and recovery by stating that we, “Create work environments that enhance mental and physical well-being of employees. I believe that promoting education and awareness on this issue is critical to overcoming this terrible trend, which is why I am joining you here today.” President Trump also said that we, as a country, cannot stand idle and allow those we love to suffer from alcohol or drug addiction. The Trump administration alone has spent approximately $1.8 billion in funding for states to continue combating the opioid crisis. (HHH.gov, 2019)

The 2020 election often discussed the topic of the opioid crisis and both running candidates have talked about their stances. On Biden’s end, he stated that he would end all incarceration for drug use alone and instead divert individuals to drug courts and treatment. Curiously, he said that these individuals should be “mandated to treatment,” which raises some complicated questions about what that might entail. He stated clearly that no one should be imprisoned for using illegal drugs alone – instead, he’d require that federal courts divert these individuals to drug courts so they receive treatment to address their substance use disorder. He wants to incentivize states to put the same requirements in place and ultimately expand funding for federal, state, and local drug courts. (Biden, 2020) Trump’s platform has created the Initiative to Stop Opioid Abuse. Part one (1) of the initiative reduces the demand and over-prescription including educating Americans about the dangers of opioid misuse. Part two (2) involves cutting down on the supply of illegal drugs by overseeing international and domestic drug supply chains that devastate American families, and part three (3) emphasizes helping those struggling with addiction through evidence-based treatment and recovery support services.

All parties are proposing sound policies, but are there enough resources being committed to solving it? Will the deaths resulting from addiction ever be given the same “all hands on deck, treatment at any expense” that was afforded to people who fell ill to COVID-19? There must be an enhanced awareness in order to alleviate the financial gaps between struggling communities and state and federal government.

California is a state that seems to be on the tipping point of making the leap from word to action where addiction is concerned. Not enough recognition is given to California Governor, Gavin Newsom. Despite dealing with such turbulent and uncertain times due to COVID-19, he signed a bill to expand access to quality behavioral health care for all Californians. “SB 855 requires health plans and insurers to cover medically necessary treatment for all mental health and substance use disorders.” (CA.gov, 2020) It is also important to note that Governor Newsom included budget supports for mental health/substance disorder treatment funding that was forecasted to drop precipitously due to a forecasted reeducation in sales tax revenue.

Regardless of party or position, it is time that society recognize the Human Redemption Value (HRV) that is inherent to every person. This theme is important for a new movement of recovering individuals that have the same rights and equality value as anyone else in society. People in recovery are just as important as those who aren’t and the stigma behind substance use and mental health disorders should not stop them from accessing the necessary resources they need.

The road to recovery and establishing it as a necessity for the country to assist through state resources has been accepted by public leaders like President Trump, the First Lady, Joe Biden, and Governor Newsom. The awareness around the opioid epidemic has been discussed but must be enacted upon to a larger extent. Finally, the focus can’t be on particular substances but rather the disease of addiction. Thus, we need to end the war on drugs. The devastation that this war has wrought has broken so many families for generations. We need to start looking at this as a public health crisis not a war zone. We must continue to raise awareness about the resources available and create new resources that can alleviate struggling communities and families. Behavioral and evidence-based treatments/therapys have become popular alternatives in programs instilling positive changes that helps generate a stable mindset and lifestyle. New tools and ways to access information and forward the recovery movement are always evolving. One such site is hosted by the Addiction Recovery Communities of California (ARCC, https://calrecovery.org/#). It contains a multitude of resources and information, including direct access to trusted recovery residences and treatment programs listed on their website to help assist in beginning a recovery journey to a healthier life.


Addiction Recovery Communities of California, calrecovery.org/.

California, State of. “Governor Newsom Signs Bills to Expand Access to Quality Behavioral Health Care for All Californians & Help Homeless Californians Suffering Extreme Mental Illness on Our Streets & Sidewalks.” California Governor, 25 Sept. 2020, www.gov.ca.gov/2020/09/25/governor-newsom-signs-bills-to-expand-access-to-quality-behavioral-health-care-for-all-californians-help-homeless-californians-suffering-extreme-mental-illness-on-our-streets-sidewalks/.

“Ending America's Opioid Crisis.” The White House, The United States Government, www.whitehouse.gov/opioids/.

“Presidential Proclamation on National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, 2018.” The White House, The United States Government, www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-proclamation-national-alcohol-drug-addiction-recovery-month-2018/.

“Readout from The White House National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month Event.” The White House, The United States Government, www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/readout-white-house-national-alcohol-drug-addiction-recovery-month-event/.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Trump Administration Announces $1.8 Billion in Funding to States to Continue Combating Opioid Crisis.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 11 Sept. 2019, www.hhs.gov/about/news/2019/09/04/trump-administration-announces-1-8-billion-funding-states-combating-opioid.html.

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