New CDHS anti-stigma campaign urges Coloradans to “Lift The Label” on substance use disorders

DENVER ( May 14, 2018) – The Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health today launched Lift the Label, a public awareness campaign to reduce stigma for individuals struggling with opioid addiction through education and stories from Coloradans in recovery. Around 200 people attended, including treatment providers and people in recovery from opioid addiction, to hear Gov. John Hickenlooper and others speak about the role stigma plays in the opioid crisis.

“We’re calling it ‘Lift the Label’ to help others take a closer look at how opioid addiction can affect anyone,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “Rather than labeling or stigmatizing someone with opioid addiction, we need to offer support and access to treatment.”

To demonstrate the magnitude of the opioid crisis, the Office of Behavioral Health also unveiled their opioid memorial wall at the event. The wall stands eight feet tall and 34 feet long and is constructed of 4,200 pill bottles; each pill bottle represents 10 Americans lost to heroin and prescription opioid overdoses in 2016. The opioid memorial wall is being transferred today to the Capitol building, where it can be seen on display through the month of May.

“Today our community came together to launch this campaign and tell the 67,000 Coloradans who say they need treatment but fear the label associated with asking for help that addiction can happen to anyone,” said Reggie Bicha, CDHS executive director. “We want Coloradans to know that we support them because they’re our family, our coworkers, our community leaders, our friends. If they’re ready to seek help, we’ve got their back.”

The campaign features 15 Coloradans who shared their stories of addiction and recovery to help challenge perceptions of people with opioid addiction and to empower others to get help. Austin Eubanks, a Columbine survivor who became addicted to opioids after he was prescribed them post-shooting, and Dana Knowles, a former 9News anchor who became addicted to opioids after surgery on her hip, spoke at Monday’s event. “The stigma of addiction has played a significant role in allowing this public health crisis to reach pandemic levels,” Eubanks said. “Addiction is the only disease where we commonly wait until it's at the highest level of acuity before deciding to treat it, and by then, it’s often too late. Eliminating the stigma associated with the disease of addiction is essential in improving early intervention, and ultimately reducing the loss of life we’re currently seeing.”

“People don’t want to get help because they feel so horrible about what they’ve been doing,” Knowles said. “If you can’t talk to a family member, talk to a professional. You don’t have to do this by yourself. You don’t have to white-knuckle through this situation, and there are people who do want to help.”

Opioid addiction is a health crisis that continues to escalate, both nationwide and in Colorado. In 2016, an estimated 2.1 million Americans were addicted to opioids, including both prescription opioids and heroin. In Colorado, preliminary data from 2017 show 357 deaths related to prescription opioid overdose, totaling 37 percent of all of the state’s drug poisoning deaths.

“Under Governor Hickenlooper’s leadership and in collaboration with physicians, we have enacted policies to reduce the likelihood that a Colorado Medicaid member will develop an addiction to opioids,” said Health Care Policy and Financing Executive Director Kim Bimestefer. “We are pleased to report that over the last three years, both the number of people taking opioids and the volume of opioids prescribed has dropped by more than 30 percent. The Lift the Label campaign is an outstanding step in continuing our efforts to prevent opioid addiction in our community.”

Beginning today through April 2019, Lift The Label will have a continued presence in the form of advanced TV, digital video, digital banners and search engine marketing with the goals of increasing awareness that addiction to opioids is a brain disorder, sharing what treatment options are available, and promoting the Colorado Crisis Services hotline and website.

“The only way we can successfully combat the opioid epidemic is to work collaboratively,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Physicians, public health, patients, pharmacists and law enforcement all play vital roles in this effort, and we must make sure everyone has the tools they need to do their part. Colorado’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program should be more widely accessed so physicians know the options when treating their patients' pain. We must find ways to reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse treatment so patients are less fearful about getting the help they need. Outreach efforts should be bolstered to prevent the spread of diseases often associated with substance abuse. Access to naloxone should be enhanced to prevent opioid overdoses and the use of medication drop-off locations should be encouraged so unused prescriptions don't wind up in the wrong hands. Together, we can find effective strategies to save lives.”

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More information about Lift The Label is available at LifTheLabel.org. A press kit for today’s event is available at http://liftthelabel.org/press.

View/print a PDF of this press release.