Penn State researchers hope website humanizes, helps others affected by opioids

Stories can speak as loudly as statistics.

That is the purpose behind “Share Your Opioid Story,” an initiative designed to raise public awareness of the impact of the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania and empower Pennsylvanians affected by the epidemic to talk openly about the effects of opioid addiction. Stories of individuals, family members, and friends affected by the epidemic can be found — and shared — online at shareyouropioidstory.com.

“Share Your Opioid Story” is being coordinated by Glenn Sterner, a postdoctoral scholar in the Justice Center for Research at Penn State and assistant professor of criminal justice at Penn State Abington, beginning this fall.

“The goal of the project is to portray a more human side of the opioid epidemic and the impact it has on individuals, family members, friends and communities regardless of someone’s background,” said Sterner. “We want to lessen the stigma surrounding the crisis and enable people to talk about it more openly, all while helping those most affected get the help they desperately need.”

“Dr. Sterner’s impactful work clearly supports Penn State’s land-grant mission to serve the citizens of the Commonwealth and the nation,” said Nick Jones, Penn State executive vice president and provost. “The rapid growth and spread of the opioid epidemic and its tragic consequences demand Penn State’s attention, and this project is one of many meaningful endeavors through which the University is addressing this crisis.”

Funding for “Share Your Opioid Story” comes from the Independence Blue Cross Foundation with additional support from the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. The project is being launched in conjunction with the unveiling of the foundation’s “Someone You Know” initiative — a multimedia campaign in southeastern Pennsylvania featuring a mix of print and outdoor advertising, personal videos and print stories from people affected by opioid addiction that the foundation hopes will inspire others seeking help with addiction and recovery.

“Through bold, direct and highly personal stories, we hope to raise public awareness that substance misuse is not a problem that people should be ashamed to discuss,” said Lorina Marshall-Blake, president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, in a release announcing the campaign. “With simple and inspiring messages … we hope to help remove the stigma that often prohibits people from seeking help and starting on the path to recovery.”

“Too often we hear that stigma around substance use disorder leaves people feeling isolated and can keep them out of treatment,” added Jennifer Smith, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. “Addiction is a disease, and like any other medical condition, people with a substance use disorder deserve compassion and support as they take steps towards recovery. We must all work to change the conversation around addiction so people seeking treatment and living in recovery feel safe, supported and empowered. This campaign is an important, much-needed step towards breaking this stigma.”

“Share Your Opioid Story” also provides links to a host of local, state and federal resources for individuals who need assistance themselves or are looking for information to help someone else struggling with opioid addiction. To learn more, visit shareyouropioidstory.com or email the project at shareopioidstories@gmail.com.