What to call someone who uses heroin?

July 16, 2019

First-ever study to ask people who use heroin what they want to be called finds "people first" language often best, and language suggesting misuse or dependence generally worst.

In the ongoing opioid crisis, many researchers and clinicians now use "person first" terms such as "person with substance use disorder" instead of loaded labels like "addict," but little research has focused on the language preferences of this population. Now, a first-of-its-kind study by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), published in the journal Addiction, has found that people entering treatment for heroin use most often called themselves "addicts," but preferred that others called them "people who use drugs."

"In the end, researchers, clinicians, and families should not automatically use the same terms that people who use heroin call themselves, but instead ask about preferences," says senior study author Dr. Michael Stein, professor and chair of health law, policy & management at BUSPH. "Of course, most people just want to be called by their name."

The researchers surveyed 263 people undergoing in-patient evaluation and withdrawal symptom management at the Stanley Street Treatment and Resources program (SSTAR) in Fall River, Massachusetts. The terms that the most respondents never wanted to be called were "heroin misuser" and "heroin-dependent," and most did not like slang terms such as "junkie."

"Persons who use heroin often complain about interactions with healthcare providers, due at least in part to the unfortunate language providers use--which is taken, sometimes rightly, as a sign of disrespect," Stein says. "Such antagonism can't be good for clinical outcomes."

"We hope this research will inform future work centering on the perspectives of individuals who use drugs, and begin to establish connections between the language that individuals use to describe themselves and treatment engagement," says the study's lead author, Dr. Ekaterina Pivovarova, assistant professor of psychiatry at UMMS and faculty in the Massachusetts Center of Excellence for Specialty Courts.
-end-
About the Boston University School of Public Health

Founded in 1976, the Boston University School of Public Health is one of the top five ranked private schools of public health in the world. It offers master's- and doctoral-level education in public health. The faculty in six departments conduct policy-changing public health research around the world, with the mission of improving the health of populations--especially the disadvantaged, underserved, and vulnerable--locally and globally.

Contact:

Michelle Samuels, 617-358-3370, msamu@bu.edu

Michael Stein: mdstein@bu.edu

Ekaterina Pivovarova: ekaterina.pivovarova@umassmed.edu

Boston University School of Medicine

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) http://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.200852.

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.