Opioid initiative earns 2019 Community Engagement and Scholarship Award

The Share Your Opioid Story Initiative, led by Glenn Sterner, assistant professor of criminal justice at Penn State Abington, has received the 2019 Penn State Award for Community Engagement and Scholarship.

Glenn Sterner

Glenn Sterner, assistant professor of criminal justice at Penn State Abington

Credit: Penn State

The award recognizes a project that best exemplifies Penn State as an “engaged institution,” which the Kellogg Commission defines as an institution that has redesigned teaching, research, and extension and service functions to become even more sympathetically and productively involved with its communities.

In response to the pervasiveness of stigma associated with those affected by the opioid epidemic, Sterner spearheaded an effort to call attention to the crisis by inviting people to share their stories about how addiction has affected them. Sterner saw the initiative as an opportunity to educate the public on the realities of the disease while dispelling myths.

“The use of storytelling can act as a bridge for the gap between science and personal experience, increasing the receptiveness for change in attitude towards those affected by opioid use disorder,” a nominator said. “By humanizing the opioid epidemic, we are able to address assumptions about the disease and those affected by it to increase greater public compassion and decrease public stigma. The primary goal of this initiative is to change negative perceptions and assumptions about the disease of opioid use disorder and those affected by this disease.”

The initiative has reached millions of individuals through public health campaigns and outreach efforts. More than 100 narratives borne through this initiatives are available at www.shareyouropioidstory.com. In these stories, delivered through text, videos and photos, the public has access to first-person accounts of the realities of the opioid epidemic and its effects on individuals, families and communities. The site has been viewed more than 14,000 times from more than 60 countries.

Following the release of the website, community conversations were held across Pennsylvania. These talks featured individuals from the website, who engaged in discussions with members of the public around the hope found in recovery, from addiction or the loss of a loved one.

In a survey following these talks, respondents reported “the opioid crisis affects all walks of life,” “it shows how others feel and that change is possible” and “the talk helped me to understand more about addiction and the need for education around how to destigmatize addiction.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 49,000 died of opioid drug overdoses in the nation in 2017. In Pennsylvania, more than 4,600 overdoses occurred in 2016.

Sterner, with the support of Penn State’s Criminal Justice Research Center, developed key partnerships with organizations including the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, and Mental Health Partnerships to execute the initiative.