On October 25, 2023, DEAR Council held a mock podcast conversation about “Misconceptions on Addiction.” Dr. Margie Skeer, a Weiner Hailey Family Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine focusing on substance use intervention research, and Lauren Aguirre, an award-winning scientific journalist and author of The Memory Thief: And the Secrets Behind How We Remember, talked with Tufts students to debunk many common myths and shed light on the true nature of substance use disorders.

The event began with questions about the systemic issues at play in creating the opioid epidemic, and why it has received much more attention than previous crises. Historically, addictions and overdoses affected primarily disenfranchised people of color. Our panelists highlighted how opioids were also impacting people who held more political, social, and economic sway. The discussion shifted to racial and ethnic disparities in substance abuse and pain management—underrepresentation of POC in healthcare, implicit biases about pain tolerance, health literacy, linguistic barriers, and barriers to care.

When addressing the negative perception of addiction, the speakers emphasized the importance of avoiding labels and instead observing the patient as a person, not as their addiction. This includes recognizing that assigning blame to an individual for a substance use disorder ignores the hefty role that social determinant of health play in creating those disorders. Lauren noted that writing people off as “addicts” creates a perception of incurability, despite the fact that more people are in long-term recovery from a substance use disorder than currently have an active one. Going forward, the speakers wanted to see more focus on preventative policies that encourage models of harm reduction to minimize the damage of addiction while combatting the associated stigma.