People who struggle with substance use disorder face many barriers to recovery. Substance use disorder is the technical term for “addiction,” or conditions in which people use drugs (alcohol, opioids, methamphetamine, etc.) in ways that cause significant health and/or social problems. One major barrier to recovery is stigma. Stigma is when someone holds a negative belief about a group or when a group is discriminated against because of a certain characteristic.
One way to reduce stigma is to make connections with people who have been stigmatized. Learning about others’ personal experiences restores their humanity and helps to decrease prejudice, harmful assumptions, and discriminatory actions. Comics are one way to provide this connection. Research has shown that comics facilitate understanding and empathy through their simplified images which require readers to use their imaginations and place themselves in the story.
The stories told by the comics in this series are based on oral histories from Utah State University’s digital collection, “Informing the National Narrative: Stories of Utah’s Opioid Crisis”. This collection contains the personal experiences of Utahns who have experienced substance use disorder, and contain many sensitive topics that are not suitable for some audiences. For more information and resources, please visit the Office of Health Equity and Community Engagement website.
This project is made possible by the SAMHSA Rural Opioid Technical Assistant Grant Award #H79-TI-083267-01.
This is a true story based on Savannah's journey through substance use disorder and recovery. Savannah experienced postpartum depression after her first child was born, and found that her husband's opioid pills helped her cope. She developed an opioid use disorder, and later used methamphetamine to taper herself off of opioids. She was left with a dependency on methamphetamine and Xanax. Savannah struggled with these substance use disorders and became suicidal, resulting in two attempts to die by suicide. A kind police officer helped her by connecting her to resources and offering moral support. Today, Savannah is on the front lines, helping to connect people with substance use disorders in rural Utah to resources and recovery. She hopes that her story will help others to see people who use drugs as worthy of compassion and respect.
Erin Fanning Madden, Hilary Disch, and Katie Zaman
For people with a substance use disorder, stigma is a major barrier to recovery. When someone discloses their struggles with substance use, they risk being stigmatized by their families, friends, and even health care providers. Some treatment strategies, including harm reduction, are also stigmatized, making it difficult for people to access resources. Harm reduction is a set of strategies based on the core value of respect for the rights of people who use drugs. The goal of harm reduction is to help people stay safe while using substances and to connect them with medical professionals who offer evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Because harm reduction strategies do not require abstinence from substance use, they are often misunderstood as enabling drug use.
This guide is meant to help people understand the role of stigma in preventing people from accessing recovery resources. It provides an overview of harm reduction strategies and explains the research on best practices for supporting people with substance use disorders to use substances more safely, and to help them consider options for treatment and recovery. The guide is in graphic novel format, and follows Erin, Hilary and Leo the Chihuahua as they travel to beautiful destinations in Utah and talk about these topics.
This is a true story based on Jessie’s journey through substance use disorder and recovery. Jessie developed an opioid use disorder when she needed pain pills for a back injury. When Jessie became pregnant with her second child, she tried to quit cold-turkey, but started again after he was born. She went to rehab, but wasn’t given information about medications for addiction treatment or harm reduction. She returned to use and started using heroin, which led to her husband kicking her out. Jessie’s use spiraled, and she became homeless, enduring assault and loss, until she finally ended up in jail. Jessie found strength in sharing her story and is now in long term recovery, using her experiences to help others struggling with substance use disorder.
This is a true story based on Jay’s journey through substance use disorder and recovery. To cope with the complex trauma he experienced growing up, Jay began using marijuana, alcohol, and methamphetamine in early adolescence. He first used opioids at age 14 when he injured his eye at school. As a minor, Jay became involved in the criminal justice system and was eventually placed in foster care. During this time, he participated in mandated treatment programs that helped to plant seeds for his later recovery. As an adult, Jay experienced many years of incarceration, unstable housing, and substance use dependency of various kinds. Jay’s path to recovery was shaped by support from his loved ones as well as opportunities to regain independence and dignity through employment and stable housing. For many years, Jay volunteered and worked to support others in recovery. He is now the CEO of a recovery center in Cache Valley and a dedicated community advocate in Utah. Jay hopes his story will give hope and love to anyone who needs it, no matter where they are on the journey.
This is a true story based on April’s journey through substance use disorder and recovery. April grew up in rural Utah with her large family and had a happy childhood. She first used opioids in college when she cut her finger at work and was given a doctor’s prescription. Later, April was prescribed opioids for pain due to endometriosis. After years of opioid use, her tolerance grew and she needed increased dosage to adequately deal with her pain. She developed an opioid use disorder and needed inpatient treatment and long-term medication for addiction treatment (MAT) to overcome her opioid use disorder. April shared her story so that others can learn from her experience about the dangers of long-term opioid use, even if it is prescribed by a doctor, and her successful treatment with the medication suboxone.