Words matter when you provide care for people with substance use disorder (SUD), says Genoa pharmacist Shawn Zwilling.
Zwilling’s pharmacy is located onsite at the St. Louis-based Assisted Recovery Centers of America, which focuses on delivering compassionate, evidence-based treatment for people with SUD. All too often, according to Zwilling, people with addiction face stigma that can stand in the way of getting effective help.
“We’re very cognizant of the words we use,” Zwilling said. “We don’t use words like ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic.’ Instead, we use patient-first language like ‘a person suffering from substance use disorder.’ Words like ‘drug abuser’ have a negative connotation that can unfortunately affect the treatment that a person receives.”
One of the people using Zwilling’s pharmacy has become an enthusiastic Genoa advocate in the clinic. In the past, she struggled with alcohol, crack cocaine, heroin and fentanyl misuse. Today, she’s been in recovery for several years. “It is fantastic,” she said. “It’s really a second chance at life.”
She says her Genoa pharmacy, in partnership with the clinic providers, has played a major role in her progress and recovery, in large part because of the personalized, non-judgmental approach to pharmacy delivery.
“You guys make me feel comfortable when I come through and pick up my medicine,” she said. “You help me with my medication, you listen and talk with me about life in general. Some places treat you differently if they know you are in recovery, but not at Genoa.”
The need for access to effective treatment for SUD is greater than ever. In the past year, 20.4 million people were diagnosed with SUD in the U.S. Furthermore, only 10.3% of those diagnosed with received SUD treatment.
Research shows that when pharmacy services are integrated with health care providers, people are more likely to obtain their prescriptions and stay on their medication plans. That lowers rates of hospitalization and emergency care and improves health care outcomes.
“I think that every consumer has a unique story and it helps that we know where they’re coming from – we know what they’ve been through and where they are today,” Zwilling said.