Reducing the stigma of substance abuse

Published April 28, 2021, 9:57 AM

by Gabriela Baron

Stigma is a major factor preventing individuals from seeking and completing addiction treatment. The concept of stigma refers to the powerful and negative perceptions often associated with substance abuse and addiction.

(Screenshot from Human Rights Watch)

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stigma is a major cause of discrimination and exclusion and it contributes to the abuse of human rights. Stigma is rarely based on facts but rather on assumptions, preconceptions, and generalizations.

IDUCare, a Cebu City-based organization, aims to counter the stigma that is often faced by persons who inject drugs (PWID).

“Before we started in 2015, we gathered drug users [in the] community and we [had] a three-day consultation with them and we came up with the IDUCare model within that consultation and we laid out the objectives and components of the organization and detailed activities,” Johan Nadela, Founder and Executive Director of IDUCare, said during the Philippine Harm Reduction Summit.

Caption 1: IDUCare model from the Cebu PWIDs (IDUCare Facebook page)

The goal, he added, was to have a peer-based community for people affected by drugs focusing towards behavior change, integral health, and upholding and defending human rights.

Through offering legal rights literacy and paralegal services training to PWIDs, IDUCare hopes they could also “help other drug users.”

“I think we’re doing it right. We’re invited by our stakeholders and partners, both locally and internationally, to represent community efforts. That’s the indicator that drug users are doing right in helping others,” Nadela noted.

“That shows that drug users can be productive in the society and in their communities.”

Other services

IDUCare also advocates for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) awareness; sexually transmitted infections (STI) and hepatitis awareness; prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTC), drug awareness, and harm reduction.

Caption 2: During a close facility outreach (IDUCare Facebook page)

The group opened a drop-in center in Cebu City. There, people could avail free medicines or seek free HIV testing and treatment; HIV viral load lab test; hepatitis C and B testing and treatment; hepatitis C virus (HCV) viral load lab test; syphilis testing and treatment; and medical check up.

“We also give care packages, food boxes, and immediate individual crisis responses, which are important especially with the covid pandemic,” Nadela said.

Motivational interviewing, spiritual accompaniment, social case studies, counseling, treatment adherence, focus group discussions, and crisis interventions are also among the psychological services IDUCare is offering among the PWIDs.

“Drug users are also people. They have a heart, they have a life, they want to live with dignity, and they can be productive if we let them,” Nadela said.

“IDUCare has just begun, and we’re way far from where we intend to go, but the last six years since the birth of IDUCare, we’ve seen so many developments and triumphs despite the Philippines’ War on Drugs,” he continued.

Safe space and challenges faced

Asked how the group helps PWIDs towards recovery, Nadela said it is through providing a safe space.

Caption 3: Legal literacy training (IDUCare Facebook page)

“We give them a safe space and help them learn skills that lead to recovery. They’ll be the ones doing their own timelines — we’re just here to motivate them. It’s a lifetime process and it’s their initiative, we’re just here to help,” Nadela continued. “There’s no one pill-solution to recovery.”

The stigma against people who use drugs is still strong in the Philippines, with the War on Drugs aggravating it more, according to Nadela.

“We’re labelled as tolerating drug [use] because we’re helping our community. Our work is very challenging especially now that the stigma is very high and we are in the War on Drugs here in the Philippines. It’s very challenging. But we have to help.”

The summit is organized by No-Box Transitions, Foundation Inc., Institute of Politics and Governance, IDUCare, ACHIEVE INC., StreetLawPh, ASCROP, and Airmeet.

Titled the “Philippine Harm Reduction Summit: Rethink. Reshape. Reimagine,” is a four-day interactive online experience that gathers Philippine and international experts from multiple disciplines to discuss drugs “the way we’ve never before.”