Dozens of organizations around New Mexico help folks who are addicted to opioids. The Bernalillo County Community Health Council is one of them.
Council organizers Christine Mintz and Pelatia Trujillo came into our studios to tell us about their work to address opioid addiction. Stigma around addiction and can affect patients and health care providers alike.
Mintz started off by pointing out that opioids have been around in various forms -- think opium, morphine, heroin -- long before opioid addiction became a widespread public health issue in the United States.
Mintz: I think we were saying the other day – the medications themselves are not evil. They’ve been around for thousands of years. The way they were marketed is, as we’re coming around to see, pretty evil. And the way that we now inadvertently use them. But if I have end-stage bone cancer, opioids are the first line and best treatment. They’re not for chronic knee pain. You know what I mean?
Trujillo: But I mean we look at things differently. My needs and someone else’s needs, we look at them differently. I will tell you this: when you try to get a bunch of different heads at the table there’s always going to be obstacles. And I think the most successful entities are the ones that take those obstacles head-on. And I definitely feel like the health council is one of those entities.
Mintz: Something that I think is challenging, and correct me if I’m wrong, is since there are a lot of people all over the country and even in the state trying to do this work – ‘cause we’re all trying to figure out the best way to help – we don’t talk to each other as much as we need to. That’s something that’s an obstacle that we need to fix, but it’s a consistent obstacle, whether it’s turnover, alternate funding streams, different forms of focus. But if we’re all doing similar type of work – I mean I imagine this wonderful spiderweb network where we communicate all the time about what we’re doing.
Trujillo: A lot of the issues that we face in our position as community health workers is dealing with different stigmas around utilizing opioids – what people think or how people brand or label other community members based on certain life experiences.
Mintz: It’s a completely, 100 percent common occurrence for us to encounter a community member and they say, ‘Well I don’t want to be involved in that fill in the blank because of the way I was treated in the emergency department.’ So they’re already expecting us to either lecture them, put them in a box, tell them what they’re doing wrong, things like that. And that’s really powerful and we all have to keep that in mind.
Trujillo: Being a person that provides services in your community, you have to remember on the other end of the spectrum, that there’s a possibility that somebody is also stigmatizing you as the service provider. And the biggest issue with that is that it brings new barriers to light. That person is less willing to talk to you about all their needs or less open about what those needs are. People have the autonomy to make decisions for their own lives and it’s not necessarily helpful to judge them on that. It’s more helpful to promote that autonomy and see if you can meet them there.
Mintz: The behavior is already occurring, we’re just making it safer. A perfect example is seat belts. People are already driving. Seat belts make driving safer. People are already using. We can have safer ways to use. We want every single type of health care provider to get trained to provide medication-assisted treatment. That’s our movement to get everybody trained, make it normal. Everyone should be trained to treat diabetes, everyone should be trained to treat opioid use disorder.
Trujillo: Ultimately, in the end, we’re all community and so all of our voices are important. And wrapping your head around that sometimes is difficult because we’re all really strong about what we feel and we all want to protect our assets. But in the end, it’s looking at everything as a whole that’s going to make us successful. As far as policy and all that is concerned, us coming together is what’s going to get us what we need as a community.
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