WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Congressman David Rouzer hosted an opioid symposium Monday evening at the Coastline Convention Center in Wilmington.
The purpose of the event was to have an open discussion about the stigmas attached to opioid addiction.
"While I hope that we can raise awareness of the issue that much more, I hope that those are watching and hear about it will realize that if they do have an addiction, they feel more comfortable in coming forward in getting the help and treatment they need," Rouzer said.
Speakers included three people recovering from addiction. The panel discussion was led by Kenny House, addiction specialist and clinical supervisor at Coastal Horizons Center, and Mark Allen, the addictions pastor at Port City Community Church.
Dr. Philip Brown, the chief physician at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, was also part of the panel discussion, which was moderated by WECT's Frances Weller.
"When I think about stigma, I think about hiding," House said. "When we use that word stigmatized, that means we don't want people to know about it because we're afraid of what they'll think. ... When stigma decreases, hope rises for people."
Allen, who was an addict for 22 years, said while an opioid addiction can seem hopeless, he is living proof that there is a way out and it begins in part by shedding preconceived notions about those who are addicted.
"It keeps people in a place of hopelessness," Allen said of the stigma surrounding opioid addicts. "I know for a fact there is freedom from opioid abuse.
"The most important thing I can do when someone is struggling with an opioid addiction is to love them exactly where they are because a huge component of addiction is shame. It's this feeling of, I'm not worthy of love. I'm not worthy of help. I'm not worthy of being alive. ... I reach out to someone and say, 'Listen, if this is how you're feeling right now — which is the ultimate form of hopelessness, which is shame — then let's talk about something. Let's talk about how you feel about yourself.'"
State representative Holly Grange was in attendance along with district attorneys Ben David and Jon David, and Anne Hazlette with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.