‘Angels in America’ again: It’s time to humanize addiction

One of the most sought-after tickets on Broadway these days is “Angels in America,” a revival of Tony Kushner’s seminal play about the AIDS crisis and its aftermath. While only a few of us will be fortunate enough to see the show in person, everyone can benefit from the following insight: When the play originally debuted in 1991, HIV/AIDS was considered a death sentence and slapped with a stigma that isolated and ostracized those with the disease and their families. The same type of stigma is happening now with substance abuse and the opioid epidemic.

Since 1991, we have learned how to treat, humanize, and support those with HIV/AIDS so they can live long and productive lives. How that happened is a complicated story. But the first step was as simple as it was bold: recognize and address the stigma.

Rather than view HIV/AIDS as something that struck only particular groups in the population and that was directly tied to risky sexual behavior, we’ve come to see it as a disease that can blindside anyone, including a child like Ryan White who contracted it from a contaminated blood transfusion.

The less we stigmatized AIDS patients and their loved ones, the more we were able to focus on the disease. It’s time to do the same thing with substance use, misuse, abuse, addiction, and the current opioid epidemic.

Sandeep Kapoor/STAT News