Melissa D. McCradden, Denitsa Vasileva, Ani Orchanian-Cheff, Daniel Z. Buchman | International Journal of Drug Policy
Human beings have long consumed opiates and opioids for pleasure and as a treatment for numerous ailments, most notably pain. North America is currently in the grips of a crisis of opioid-related overdoses, and stigma is considered a major driver of the harms. While it is well established that substance use in general is highly stigmatized, stigma is a complex concept and opioid-related stigma is not well understood. A lack of clarity on opioid-related stigma has practice and policy implications in terms of understanding the sources of opioid stigma, how it manifests in various contexts, its impact on affected groups, and the development of effective strategies to redress it.MethodsWe performed a scoping review of the academic literature to develop a typology of opioid-related stigma. A charting process identified the type, agent, and recipient of stigma as well as the methodology and substances considered.ResultsOur search yielded 8,543 articles, from which 49 were included in the analysis. Based on the findings, we developed a typology of four main themes: (1) interpersonal and structural stigma toward people accessing opioid agonist therapy (OAT); (2) stigma related to opioids for the treatment of chronic pain; (3) stigma in healthcare settings; and (4) self-stigma.ConclusionHow opioid-stigma is (re)produced depends on the context of opioid use, the social identity and networks of the person who is consuming the opioid, and what type of opioid is being consumed, including medically-sanctioned forms of treatment. Opioid-related stigma permeates intrapersonal, interpersonal, structural, and societal levels, and people who consume opioids are marginalized at all levels. Our review describes our typology of stigma and illuminates multi-level considerations for reducing opioid-related stigma in healthcare settings.