The Governor's Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment: Public Education Subcommittee


In 2021, the Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment formalized the Public Education Workgroup as an official Subcommittee of the Governor’s Council. The subcommittee is focused on addressing three goals to promote education and reduce negative beliefs (stigma) in order to promote treatment and recovery for substance use disorders. The subcommittee has taken an inventory of current training and educational opportunities across the state to develop an online repository and to identify any gaps. Gaps may include communities or populations that are not being targeted, lack of access to training in a particular region, a lack of evidence-based or validated training on a topic, or a lack of resources for training including trainers or associated costs. The subcommittee is then tasked with promoting available training and identifying sustainable methods for addressing these gaps. The subcommittee is also focused on ensuring integrated and consistent statewide messaging when it comes to media, marketing, outreach, and educational campaigns. It is necessary to challenge negative messaging and beliefs with evidence based and effective messaging. Resources are often scarce, therefore, it is important that opportunities are not duplicated but rather supported and expanded upon to reach all West Virginians.

The Public Education Subcommittee is made up of community members across the state and across multiple organizations and disciplines. Dr. Lyn O’Connell, Associate Director of Addiction Sciences in the Department of Family & Community Health at the Joan C. Edward’s School of Medicine, accepted the position as Chair of the subcommittee. The subcommittee is also receiving support from two researchers in Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who specialize in messaging and marketing frameworks to address stigma.

“This committee has no small task as unfortunately those in our community who are struggling with substance use are often isolated, shunned, shamed, and victimized,” said Dr. O’Connell. “This means it’s harder for them to find sustainable employment, safe and supportive housing, and re-enter society after incarceration or treatment. It is my hope for this committee that we can work together to find sustainable and creative ways to address stigma and promote evidence-based and effective approaches to substance use treatment.”

There are some universal guidelines around language that the subcommittee will ensure are part of every training, educational opportunity, and marketing campaign. This includes the use of person-first language to remind us that individuals are not defined by their experience or disease. For example, “an individual with a substance use disorder” is not defined by that, but when we say “addict,” we take the human out of the sentence, and it is easier to belittle them. Similarly, we want to refer to “infants with exposure” or “infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome” rather than “addicted babies.” The small reframe helps us humanize our language.

“Changing our language may seem like a small step,” said Dr. O’Connell, “but I’ve been told by countless family members of someone who is struggling with an addiction how they recognized who they could talk to or confide in based on the language they used. I know West Virginians love showing up for their neighbors, but the loved ones of those struggling and even the caregivers or children of those with a substance use disorder often face secondary stigma and shame. To address this disease and pull people out of the shadows and into treatment, we need to reduce the deadly effects of stigma and replace them with facts and the necessary support for treatment.”    

Contact Information

The WV Office of Drug Control Policy-