Opioid Use Disorder Terminologies and the Role of Public Health in Addressing Stigma

Jeff A. Dennis, Lisaann S. Gittner, Asher K. George, Courtney M. Queen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Substance use disorder (SUD) stigma persists in society despite a movement toward people-first language in the mental health field. Stigma creates barriers to treatment and marginalizes already at-risk populations. Opioid use disorder (OUD) is of particular relevance to this discussion because recent increases in OUD can be traced to iatrogenic origins, and as such, power differentials between prescriber and patient may complicate stigma and/or create additional barriers for those who develop opioid dependence. We examine the shift to use destigmatizing language surrounding OUD, explores the unique power dynamics associated with the rise of OUD prevalence, and presents a manifest content analysis of phrases related to OUD to observe the emergence of opioid use as a public health issue. Whereas SUD has long had visibility in public health discourse, OUD has emerged as a major theme in this discourse as its prevalence and mortality rate reached epidemic levels. We advocate for public health practice and research discourse to more uniformly adopt destigmatizing language alongside clinical SUD practitioners toward the goal of reducing stigma and barriers to treatment seeking for OUD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-118
Number of pages9
JournalAlcoholism Treatment Quarterly
StatePublished - 2020


  • Opioid use disorder
  • public health
  • social class
  • stigma


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