HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Drug addiction is a nationwide epidemic, and Towns County is not exempt from the toll that substance abuse can take on individuals, families, and the community as a whole. Elizabeth McKeon, a board-certified psychiatric, recovery, and addiction RN with Chatuge Regional Hospital’s Clearview Center, shared the importance of destigmatizing drug addiction in order to help curb the epidemic within the area. McKeon explained that she accepted a position to coordinate a behavioral health holding area at the local emergency department to assist patients seeking treatment for behavioral health crises. The registered nurse said that the unit held a “great number of people” requesting detoxification from methamphetamine and heroin to alcohol.
“I saw people I had grown up with suffering from these addictions,” McKeon said. “I realized very quickly that drug addiction has no boundaries and no one is safe in its path. I made alliances with local mobile crisis teams, churches, law enforcement, EMS, and anyone else willing to help battle this nightmare that had taken over my town. One thing I noticed the entire time was the stigma revolving around all behavioral health, including substance abuse.”
McKeon explained that people who are exposed to stigmatization related to drug use are less likely to seek treatment, increasing costs and deaths nationwide. Research shows that that cost-related estimates amounted to a staggering $510 billion in healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity combined. McKeon stated that by 2020, mental and substance use disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major source of disability worldwide.
“When health providers carry a stigma towards people with mental health diagnoses and/or substance use disorders, it can affect their willingness to access or treat the patient for these disorders, how they approach him or her, and it may prevent addicted individuals from seeing healthcare altogether,” McKeon said.
McKeon encouraged the community to model non-stigmatizing behavior by providing non-judgemental, empathic support toward those battling substance addiction, displaying kindness, listening to someone’s story, seeing the person rather than the drug, educating oneself on substance dependency, volunteering, and avoiding hurtful labels.
McKeon and staff can be reached at the Clearview Center at 706-896-5840.