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Working to End the Stigma of Drug Addiction

Recently retired Miscoe Hill Teacher Betsy Sadler wants to put an end to the stigma of addiction, and she is asking for help from the Mendon Upton community to do so.

Sadler, who lost her 34-year-old son last July to a drug overdose, attended the Mendon Upton Regional School Committee on June 19 to talk about a campaign recently started by Governor Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services that focuses on reducing the barriers and stigma of addiction.

The #StateWithoutStigMA campaign is a statewide effort aimed at reducing the stigma that addicts face which has shown to prevent some from seeking treatment and is a leading reason for relapse.

"It's the state's greatest public health threat – addiction to powerful opioid painkillers. This epidemic kills about four people each day in the Commonwealth," reads the #StateWithoutStigMA website page. "But you can help. By changing the way you think about, talk about, and treat people with addiction."

Sadler spoke openly to the Committee about her son Thomas Bertrand and his struggle with addiction. "He was a super student and a great athlete...he excelled in college," she said. "I never dreamed I would have to be educated on this subject, to be honest."

One of the main issues that Sadler said her family dealt with during his seven-year struggle with addiction was the "shame and guilt." "He couldn't believe that he didn't have enough willpower to fight this...but it's not about willpower," she said.

Sadler is also a member of Upton's Opioid Task Force, and said that she has pledged to spread the word about the #StateWithoutStigMA campaign so that no other family would have to experience what they went through.

"Our family wants to talk about the importance of educating yourself about prescription drugs," she said. "As parents it's really important to make those decisions for our kids – you don't want to see them in pain but you don't ever want to see them as an addict either."

Along with information and resources available for those struggling with addiction and their families, the #StateWithoutStigMA website asks for everyone in Massachusetts to take a pledge – to "join the movement against stigma by embracing those in need and showing compassion in how I think about, talk about, and treat people who struggle with addiction – empowering them to seek treatment and a successful recovery."

"It takes 10 seconds," said Sadler. "I would love nothing better than for everyone in Mendon and Upton to take that pledge and to become educated so that no other family has to be demolished like our family was."

Sadler told the Committee that although it is a difficult topic for her to discuss, she understands the importance of opening up the dialog about addiction in order to eliminate the stigma.

"I am doing this for Tom as well as for other families," she said.

To take the pledge, visit the Executive Office of Health and Human Services website and search for the StateWithoutStigMA page.


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