Addiction & Overdose

Stigma on Opioid Use Disorder Among Health Professions

September 16, 2022

In 2019, Assistant Professor Alene Kennedy-Hendricks set out to incorporate nursing expertise into a communication campaign to reduce health professionals’ stigma towards opioid use disorders and the medications that treat it.   

With funding from the Initiative, and working with The Johns Hopkins Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy and the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Dr. Kennedy-Hendricks hired a nurse with experience working in the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The nurse contributed to all aspects of the communication campaign’s development, design, implementation, and evaluation.  

Researchers exposed health care professionals to visual messages discouraging use of stigmatizing language related to substance use and messages highlighting the value of FDA-approved medications. They also exposed some of these participants to a written narrative vignette from the perspective of either a patient with opioid use disorder, a clinician, or a health care system administrator.  A control group was not exposed to any of the messages.  

The team found that participants exposed to both the visual campaigns and the short narrative vignettes told from the perspective of a patient with opioid use disorder had significantly lower levels of stigma compared to the control group. 

Stigma is a significant barrier to scaling up evidence-based responses to the addiction and overdose crisis. By reducing stigma in the health care setting, effective communication campaigns can facilitate other reforms, such as evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder with medication and appropriate management of withdrawal symptoms while patients are hospitalized. 

Their findings were published in JAMA Network Open in 2022.  

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