LISTEN: Stigma and shame keep people locked in a cycle of addiction. But the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities is working with a nonprofit to change that, and raise awareness about opioid use disorder. GPB’s Ellen Eldridge reports.

Timothy is grateful for the life he has in recovery. The Savannah resident said his shame spiraled out from his mother's judgment and her negative attitude toward his substance use disorder.

As the oldest child and only son in his family, he said he felt like a disappointment for being a person with SUD, even though addiction is a medical condition. But his aunt offered compassion and didn't judge Timothy. When he was ready to change, Timothy called his aunt.

Timothy is one of many Georgians in recovery and sharing a message of hope and healing.

That's the goal of the Georgia Recovers campaign led by the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Georgia Council for Recovery in partnership with Shatterproof, a national nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of addiction, treatment and recovery.

DBHDD Commissioner Kevin Tanner said one of the campaign's goals is to help people within the criminal justice system to understand addiction is a disease. 

"It's important for us to loop sheriffs into this conversation because they're on the front lines oftentimes, and they, unfortunately, have people that are in their jails that are in need of behavioral health services," Tanner said. "So, we're working to build relationships and partnerships with sheriffs across the state."

The feedback is tremendous, he said, noting that eliminating stigma opens the door for people to step into recovery.

"Oftentimes, family members who have a loved one who has a substance abuse or even a mental health illness are afraid because of stigma to reach out and ask for help," Tanner said. "And we're hoping that this Shatterproof campaign will continue to work to reduce the stigma."

In a recent survey that measured existing knowledge, attitudes and behaviors toward people with opioid use disorders in Georgia, half of survey respondents (51.1%) reported knowing someone with an OUD. 

Tanner said the campaign is going to have a real impact on Georgia.

"It's going to reduce stigma," he said. "It's going to encourage more people to reach out and seek help. And we're going to see more people in our recovery as a result of this work. So it's it's an exciting time."