Living Labs: New research findings show stigma around alcohol and other drugs harms a major barrier for patients in their care journey towards ageing well

Why does it take an individual suffering from alcohol and other drugs (AOD) harms up to 18 years to seek care?

Professor Prue Morgan with students
Project leads: A/Prof Suzanne Nielsen (Monash University) and Kirsty Morgan (Peninsula Health)

A question A/Prof Suzanne Nielsen and her Living Labs research team are looking to understand in order to help our communities connect sooner with the AOD treatment system.

The project was co designed in collaboration with Self Help Addiction Resource Centre, (SHARC, a consumer advocacy organisation) Peninsula Health and Frankston Mornington Peninsula Primary Care Partnership and focused on identifying key barriers that priority populations, including older adults, women and those experiencing homelessness, faced in their care journey.

A/Prof Nielsen said there were a range of barriers, however stigma associated with AOD harms was a major one the project team believed they could address immediately.

“We know that there’s a lot of stigma around substance use and we found patients who may have had a negative experience while looking to access or receive care were really put off from going back.”

Interviews conducted revealed beliefs and attitudes around often feeling their addiction wasn’t seen as a real illness or that they sometimes felt unvalued or not worthy.

To address this a range of endorsed stigma reduction resources were developed to target clinicians and AOD staff and policy makers. Tools which can be implemented into a range of care settings where our priority populations may seek care.

“Our posters and tools take the findings of our research and make them accessible visually to address stigma and other treatment barriers,” said A/Prof Nielsen.

“We know that one bad experience can put someone off seeking help for years and that’s what we are really trying to change.

“People don’t often realise the power of their words and that through some simple changes, individuals can really help to reduce this stigma and negative experience.”

A/Prof Nielsen said she would seek to roll out the project resources at a service level in partnership Peninsula Health, and through the National Centre for Healthy Ageing (NCHA) Healthy Ageing Data Platform, look to evaluate and measure impact through overall presentations over time.

“We would also look to address some high level system barriers at play facing older persons and other priority populations and further investigate and look to expand the great work Peninsula Health is doing in relation to its peer workers, given our research found the role of peers was vital in treatment engagement.”

Findings from this Living Labs project will be presented at the upcoming Monash Addiction Research Centre (MARC) Annual Symposium, held 19 May.

*A/Professor Suzanne Nielsen A/Prof Suzanne Nielsen (BPharmSc[Hons] PhD MPS) is the Deputy Director of the Monash Addiction Research Centre and an NHMRC Career Development Fellow. A/Prof Nielsen leads a program of research within the Centre which focuses on understanding harms with illicit and pharmaceutical drugs, and on reducing harms through a range of harm reduction and treatment interventions.