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30 January 2019

'Addiction is a disease, not a choice', UNODC event highlights role of education in fighting stigma around drug use

30 January 2019 – A special event was hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) last Thursday, 24 January to spotlight the negative impact of stigma that surrounds drug addiction and the importance of education in the prevention of this growing problem.

The panel discussion “Leaving No One Behind: the Drug Epidemic as a Global Health Challenge” featured Mr. David Sheff, best-selling author of Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction; Ms. Vicky Cornell, co-founder of the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation; Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse; and Dr. Gilberto Gerra, Chief of the UNODC Drug Prevention and Health Branch.

Experts expressed concerns over the stigma surrounding those affected by drug use and dependence. According to Mr. David Sheff, stigma is the biggest challenge when it comes to the treatment of drug addiction. “We tend to think that it is their fault and we judge them, we shame them, and we punish them.” Those struggling with drug problems should be treated with compassion, and this understanding can only be reached through education.

Mr. Sheff argued that drug addiction is "a disease, not a choice”, and it is scientifically proven to be preventable and treatable. He called for education for children on this topic at schools, which he believed is vital for helping young people understand the consequences of drug, particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds. 

“We already know a lot about drugs, what we should study more is what makes people vulnerable to drugs and what drives people to take drugs,” Dr. Gilberto Gerra shared his insights on the root of the drug problem. There are many factors that work together to make a person vulnerable, for example, children who grew up in family environment with parents addicted to drugs are more likely to become drug consumers and inherit their parents’ stress and struggles.

Ms. Vicky Cornell, co-founder of the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation and wife of late rock icon Chris Cornell, added her personal experience to the discussion. Her foundation helps families that are suffering from drug use problems, and supported the launch of the Addiction Resource Center, which offers free support to patients and their families with a 24/7 helpline and a database of treatment providers.