The language doctors and medical journals use to describe dependence has a real effect on patients
Journals have a responsibility to communicate clearly in ways that benefit patients
BMJ April 19, 2017
Choice of language can impede access to medicines both for the treatment of pain and opioid dependence. Referring to a person as a “substance abuser” rather than “a person with substance use disorder” evokes stigma and there is evidence that it reduces patients’ access to appropriate treatment.
Moreover, imprecise terminology may result in misunderstanding of the nature of pain treatment and the management of substance use disorder. In turn, politicians and administrators may establish irrational public health policies, and patients may decide not to take their medicines.
In many countries the barriers to accessing pain treatment and treatment of opioid dependence are huge. Yet non-medical use of psychoactive substances and untreated moderate and severe pain are considered public health priorities. Clear, unambiguous, non-stigmatising terminology is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one way to ensure access to controlled medicines.
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Willem Scholten, board member, International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies.
Olivier Simon, president, Swiss Romandy College for Addiction Medicine; board member, Swiss Society of Addiction Medicine.
Icro Maremmani, president, World Federation for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence.
Lukas Radbruch, president, International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care.
Chris Wells, president, European Pain Federation EFIC®.