BOSTON — Calling it a significant roadblock to seeking help and treatment for many people addicted to drugs, Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday launched a multimedia campaign aimed at removing the stigma of addiction.
The latest in a series of efforts from the governor to address the state's ongoing opioid epidemic, the "State Without StigMA" campaign will include radio ads, Internet videos, billboards and social media posts highlighting stories of people in recovery.
"Addiction is not a choice, addiction is a disease," Baker said at a Statehouse kickoff event, where he was joined by dozens of people in recovery. "It's a disease that's no different than diabetes or heart disease or congestive heart failure. And just as with these illnesses, those who suffer from them need our support, our understanding and our compassion."
The Pittsfield-based Brien Center applauded Baker's approach to eliminate the "shame and secrecy" that surrounds the opioid crisis in the commonwealth.
"Talking openly with each other about addiction is the best way to break down misconceptions and promote recovery and healthy communities," said the agency's CEO Christine Macbeth.
The Brien Center is the Berkshires' primary community-based behavioral health provider, which works to facilitate a better understanding about how mental health and addiction affects everyone, and ensure those affected get the help they need, according to Macbeth.
"We as a community must talk more and work harder to educate people about addiction and de-stigmatize it," she said in a statement to The Eagle.
Baker said that the stigma associated with addiction has been shown to prevent people from seeking treatment and is a leading reason that some people relapse.
Among those who joined Baker on Wednesday was Mike Duggan, a former addict who is now in recovery and runs treatment programs at Wicked Sober in Watertown.
"I didn't want to be labeled as a drug addict. Accepting help was a big problem because of those words or that label that you would associate with somebody who is an addict," Duggan says in one of the campaign's web videos. "Anybody who loved me and cared about me, it made me start pushing them away, farther and farther away from me, because I felt like they were judging me and looking down upon me because of the stigma."
The multimedia campaign — which Baker's office said carries a cost of $850,000 — is intended to change the way the public thinks about addiction and views those addicted to drugs, the governor said.
"It will educate about the causes of addiction and the fact that stigma hurts and that treatment works," Baker said. "It will also get people talking. With this campaign we will bring the disease out of the shadows and show we, as a community, as a commonwealth, support the hundreds of families and thousands of friends struggling with this illness."
Radio ads began airing Wednesday in English and Spanish on 33 stations across the state. Several cities and towns plan to hang campaign banners on municipal buildings, billboards will convey the message to drivers around the state, and the campaign website mass.gov/statewithoutstigma has launched with video testimonials and other information.
After the event, Baker said he continued to support the development of drug courts and was "perfectly happy" to let local officials pursue options to help stem substance abuse problems, including the effort by police in Gloucester to steer addicts into treatment programs.
"I do believe that campaigns like this one which are all about eliminating this idea of stigma can help get people more focused on the idea that treatment is really the answer here as opposed to incarceration and I do think that programs like Gloucester's help promote that message, which is a good thing," Baker said.
The Department of Public Health confirmed that 1,089 people died of opioid overdoses in 2014 — a 20 percent increase over the number of deaths in 2013 and a 63 percent increase over 2012 — and said as many as 199 deaths are expected to be added to that total once the medical examiner finalizes death investigations.
DPH estimated there were 683 opioid-related deaths from January through June of this year, an increase of nearly 7 percent over the estimated 640 deaths during same period in 2014.
A bill Baker recently filed to limit first-time opioid prescriptions to a 72-hour supply and to give doctors the authority to hospitalize addicts against their will for up to 72 hours if they present a risk to themselves or others is slated for a hearing before the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse on Nov. 16, Baker said.
Eagle reporter Dick Lindsay contributed to the article.