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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Language matters

Language+matters

New terms shift tone of opioid epidemic


The latest edition of the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, the language and style guide used in thousands of news- rooms and college classrooms worldwide, revised its style in favor of “person first” language, a move that affirms the importance of language when used to write about the current national public health emergency – the opioid overdose crisis.

Katie Bean, assistant director of Student Outreach and Support and head of Wellness, Alcohol and Drug Education (WADE), is an advocate for the use of language that does not dehumanize those impacted by the opioid epidemic.

“I just think that in the past, it was looked at like you are an addict, and you would hear words like junkie [and] crackhead, these very stigmatizing, degrading uses of language,” Bean said.

Since 2014, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a manual that helps mental health professionals appropriately diagnose patients, replaced the terms addiction, substance abuse and substance disorder, with the term substance use disorders. Though the shift seems small, advocates praised the change because it promoted de-stigmatizing language.

“Before it was looked at like you had a moral failing, like you were not a mor- al person and were making bad choices,” Bean said. “It was very judgement heavy. When you hear the word addiction, it is still tied with that stigma.”

The term “substance use disorder” is not associated with this criminalized mental image to which addiction has al- ways been linked. Instead, the new terminology frames the issue as a health condition that requires treatment. Since the term is relatively new, experts in the field and people in recovery still use the terms addict and addiction.

Language shapes the tone of entire conversations, so when discussing the opioid epidemic and people who have substance-use disorders, it is important to use positive and recovery-focused lan- guage, according to Bean.

Policy advocacy groups use language that shapes conversation in a way they feel will focus on recovery instead of perpetuating stereotypes. The word “addiction” carries stereotypes left over from the government’s catch-all approach to dealing with illegal drug use.

“I think that the [opioid] epidemic has been going on for a long time, and the same thing was happening years ago, but with a different population, and we called it the War on Drugs,” said Bean. “And how different is that, when you’re calling it a war, and now we are calling it a crisis.”

Bean said it is important to consider audience when writing and talking about the opioid epidemic, so that the conversation can be shaped appropriately.

“There is a balance where you need to recognize who you are talking to,” Bean said. “We need to focus on life in recovery more as a society. We need to focus on the positive. People live happy, productive, satisfying lives all the time in recovery.”

 

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