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Share Your Opioid Story: A Collaboration between Independence Blue Cross Foundation, The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, and Penn State University

This project will tell the individual stories of the opiate crisis in the Philadelphia Region, addressing the stigma associated with opioid addiction.

Project Team

Principal Investigator:  Glenn Sterner, Ph.D.
Co-Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D.
Researcher: Elaine Arsenault, M.A.

About the Project

Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties continue to present some of the highest rates of overdose from opiates in Pennsylvania. In 2015, 1,338 individuals lost their lives in the five county Philadelphia Region. Along with this loss in our community, addiction treatment, law enforcement issues, and disruption of family life all accompany those affected by the opioid crisis in the Philadelphia region and beyond.

The story of the opiate crisis in the Philadelphia Region, much like the rest of the country, continues to be told through the use of staggering statistics including the deaths reported above, rates of overdoses, uses of opiate reversal therapy, amount of people seeking treatment, amount of additional resources needed to treat those suffering with addiction, amount of opiates seized from law enforcement, among many others. However, these numbers fail to capture the effect of opiate addiction on individuals, family members, friends, and communities. 

Glenn Sterner will coordinate a team of individuals that consists of Penn State University researchers and IBX professionals on a project to tell the individual stories of the opiate crisis in the Philadelphia Region and Philadelphia more broadly, addressing the stigma associated with opioid addiction.  Dr. Sterner, a Post-Doctoral Scholar in the Justice Center for Research at Penn State University, is an expert with regards to the opiate crisis.  He is involved in numerous research projects across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to address this issue, and he is Chair of the Pennsylvania Coalition to address Heroin and Opioid Addiction.  Through this project, the aim is to illuminate and give voice to those affected by the opiate crisis to raise awareness of how pervasive and invasive this crisis is in the Philadelphia region and across the Commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs has signed on as a partner in this project to expand its reach across the state.  Through the collaboration between Penn State University researchers, IBX professionals, and the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, we hope to tell the stories of individuals of the opiate crisis in our Philadelphia communities to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and thereby enable others to talk more broadly about this critical subject to receive the help they desperately need.  This effort is funded by the IBX Foundation, and all products of the project will be made available to the public through an interactive website.  In addition, we will be engaging student interns from the Rehabilitation and Human Services Program at the Penn State Abington Campus to host community events in the summer of 2018 to facilitate community conversations around stigma associated with the opioid crisis.

Project Objectives

Through this phase of the project we aim to:

  1. Interview 3-5 individuals from each of the 5 counties in the Philadelphia Region (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia) who have been affected by opiate addiction.
  2. Produce 10 short videos that will tell an individual’s story.
  3. Produce 30 short print stories that will tell each individual’s story.
  4. PSU team will work with IBX Foundation’s communications staff to prepare and broadly disseminate findings and stories through blog postings and articles.
  5. Produce a website that highlights the stories of opioid addiction.
  6. Host community presentations on the stories and website, and assess the impact of these presentations on audiences.
  7. Increase awareness of the broad spectrum of people affected by opiate addiction in the Philadelphia Region and across Pennsylvania.
  8. Increase awareness of resources available to those affected by opiate addiction in the Philadelphia Region and across Pennsylvania.

Implications

This is an incredibly important project, as it will help to begin to explore the diverse experiences associated with the opioid crisis currently ravaging our communities.  By helping to address the stereotypes associated with opioid addiction and those affected by opioid addiction by illuminating the myriad diverse individuals in our study, we may be able to increase those seeking help for opioid addiction and expedite this process.  Stigma associated with opioid addiction can lead to shame associated with this disease, which delays the initiation into addiction counseling services.  By beginning to help to address this stigma through our research, individuals may be more apt to seek services earlier, leading to quicker positive outcomes.

Through our website and outreach activities, we hope to be able to connect those affected by the opioid crisis on a broader scale.  We also hope to give voice to those stories associated with the opioid crisis.

Additionally, this project will help to examine the effects of the opioid crisis and opioid addiction on individuals, helping us to examine research needed to document the ways that this crisis may be differentially affecting communities and marginalized individuals.  We anticipate that this will uncover narratives that will differ across experiences, leading to further expanded research.

Finally, this project will help to further understand the depth of impact on individuals in our sample by the opioid crisis and opioid addiction.  While quantitative studies document the propensity of this issue, this project is specifically designed to provide greater context of the statistical analyses, and may uncover additional areas for quantitative research opportunities.  This project will help to provide a needed understanding of the life altering experiences associated with the opioid crisis and opioid addiction.

Project Partners

Justice Center for Research, Independence Blue Cross Foundation, Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs

Participate in the Project

Telling the Stories of the Opioid Crisis – We want to hear from you

Have you lost a loved one or a friend to an opioid overdose?  Are you in recovery from opioid addiction?  Are you currently struggling with opioid addiction? Or maybe you have been affected by the opioid epidemic in some other way.

We want to talk to you, because we would like to hear your story. 

Dr. Glenn Sterner from the Justice Center for Research at Penn State University is working to collect the stories of the opioid crisis in our Philadelphia communities. We want to show the human side of the opioid epidemic, how it affects people of all backgrounds, and the impacts it has had on individuals, family members, friends and communities.

We have two goals.  First, we want to reduce the stigma surrounding the crisis and help people to talk about opioid addiction more openly. Second, we want to connect those affected by the opioid crisis, so you can know that you are not alone.  By doing so, we hope to assist those affected in getting the help they desperately need.

If you live in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties, we want to sit down with you and hear your story of how the opioid epidemic has affected your life.  From this interview, we will document your story and post it in on an online website we are in the process of creating that will share your story and the story of others across the Philadelphia region and across Pennsylvania.

If you are interested in sharing your story, please email shareopioidstories@gmail.com or call 814-867-3295.  We will connect with you as soon as possible.  Thank you for your interest.