By Alison Spillane
From April 1st through 3rd, I participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University at the University of California at Berkeley, representing my Commitment to Action. This experience helped me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Multiple forums were held, and topics ranged from addressing mental health stigma to bolstering your commitment through fundraising or capacity building. I was able to attend a panel on mental health, and the insight surrounding the development of supportive communities for individuals living with a mental health diagnosis really resonated with me. Many opiate users experience stigma surrounding their use and are often too afraid to seek support from health care professionals when they need it most. My commitment seeks to address not just physiological overdose, but more importantly, provider bias that limits access to health promotion in the first place. Preventing an overdose starts with supporting drug users so they may reduce the potential harm that drug use places on their bodies. The continuum of care includes nurses in community, acute, and emergency care settings. Creating more inclusive, supportive care environments that are free of judgment and stigma serve to enhance access to care for drug users. Attending CGI-U reminded me that one of the greatest public health challenges our society faces is stigma. Whether it’s related to mental health, HIV status, reproductive choices, or drug use, stigma is harming, and at worst, taking lives. As health professionals living in an era with strained medical spending and sky-rocketing rates of heroin overdose, one of the greatest interventions available to us is addressing and eliminating our own biases regarding our patients. Their very lives depend on it.