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UNSHAME Kentucky campaign addresses stigma associated with opioid use disorder

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September is National Recovery Month and we're revisiting a conversation with Asha Carroll, Director of Social Media Engagement for the media group, Shatterproof which is spearheading an effort to de-stigmatize substance use disorders in the commonwealth. The project is called UNShame Kentucky.

The campaign, known as UNSHAME Kentucky, includes personal stories as well as educational information related to the opioid epidemic; sheds a light on the thousands of individuals who are in remission and recovery from opioid use disorder (OUD); and assesses public knowledge and attitudes around topics that drive addiction-related stigma.

“Much like diabetes or heart disease, substance use disorder is a chronic illness,” said Dr. Katherine Marks. “Yet the stigma that surrounds substance use disorder is unparalleled. Barriers to care are constructed because of stigma. Communities, professionals, and even friends and families hold misguided negative attitudes towards people experiencing addiction. As a result, individuals turn this unfounded shame inward. To save lives in Kentucky, we must end the unfounded shame associated with substance use disorder. We have to un-shame our system of care and those we care about.”

UNSHAME Kentucky is the result of a partnership between the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort (KORE), Shatterproof, and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. The campaign utilizes an evidence-based messaging approach proven to help change attitudes associated with OUD, drawing upon the power of storytelling to humanize individuals impacted by OUD and their lives in recovery.

The initiative is more urgent than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky’s rate of overdose deaths is among the highest in the U.S. and increased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic. From June 2020 to June 2021, overdose deaths jumped from 1,706 to 2,303, denoting a 35% increase in overdose deaths over the course of only 12 months.

As part of the campaign, the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of Kentuckians regarding substance use disorder and treatment services were assessed in January 2022 across a representative sample of the state. Changes in stigma will be re-evaluated at the close of the campaign in 2023.

“The work the state of Kentucky is embarking on will change attitudes and behaviors and is crucial to changing hearts and minds when it comes to the unjust stigma related to opioid use disorder. Shatterproof is hopeful to see the state’s commitment to this important, life-giving work,” said Gary Mendell, founder and CEO, Shatterproof.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has joined this partnership to help reach the state’s large network of healthcare, policy, business, and advocacy organizations.

"The opioid epidemic impacts us all – as individuals, businesses, nonprofits, healthcare, etc. – and we must come together to address it,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “We must remember that those impacted by substance use are people – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, community members – and it’s time we work together to humanize their struggles in a way that reduces stigma and provides hope to those fighting this disease.”

UNSHAME Kentucky testimonials are shared via social media by local community members, media outlets, and the campaign website. The website will roll out a community platform on June 1st to connect and build a network of champions for stigma reduction efforts across the state.

“As a person in Recovery from co-occurring disorders, I know all too well the impact of stigma associated with SUD/OUD and the enormous amounts of shame that come along with those stigmas. I believe other words for stigma are discrimination and oppression,” said Jeremy Byard, who now serves as the director of Louisville Recovery Community Connection. “We all deserve a place in this world that is safe and free from discrimination and stigma, no matter what pathways we choose and no matter what our diagnoses are. Addiction affects our whole community and it’s going to take our whole community coming together to educate one another, dispel myths, and create new and innovative approaches, if we want to find ourselves on the other side of this public health crisis. Campaigns like “UNSHAME” are crucial because eliminating the harmful consequences of stigma and oppression can be the difference between life and death. “

UNSHAME Kentucky also focuses on community outreach and technical assistance. The campaign hosts monthly, one-hour webinars on a variety of topics related to OUD, stigma, and other topics identified by community-based organizations. The May webinar, How Harm Reduction Helps, will take place Thursday, May 26th at 12PM CT/1PM ET with guest speaker Jennifer Twyman of Louisville Metro’s Harm Reduction Outreach Services. Registration details are available on the program website www.UNSHAMEKY.org, and ASL interpretation and live closed captioning services will be provided.

Community-Based Organizations Encouraged to Join

The voice of Kentuckians and community-based organizations are central to the success of this project and played a key role in designing the campaign strategy. If you or your organization are interested in being a part of this effort or you would like to recommend a potential partner, please fill out an intake form.

If you would like to be part of this effort and share your story with others, click this link. Stories will be shared on various digital platforms, including social media and the campaign website, UNSHAMEKY.org, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Help UNSHAME Kentucky make sure all Kentuckians know that OUD is a treatable disease and recovery is not just possible, but probable when we support our community members. Follow @unshameky on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to learn more about the campaign and share Kentuckians' stories of hope and recovery.

Kentucky Opioid Response Effort

The Kentucky Opioid Response Effort (KORE) seeks to expand and sustain a comprehensive, equitable recovery-oriented system of care to end the opioid epidemic that has reached into every community in Kentucky. The program, housed in the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental, and Intellectual Disabilities in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, is funded by a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

About Shatterproof

Shatterproof is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis in the United States. Shatterproof harnesses the models of business, the rigor of science and the power of a national movement to create change and save lives through three pillars of work: revolutionizing the addiction treatment system, breaking down addiction-related stigmas and supporting and empowering our communities. To learn more visit www.Shatterproof.org.