Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

Stigma Is a Barrier

Stigma is a significant barrier for people living with problematic substance use or a substance use disorder who are in need of access to treatment and support. Stigma can hinder people seeking or delivering treatment for substance use disorder. Healthcare professionals are in a unique position to shift the culture, and change the attitudes and language that perpetuate stigma.

Tackling Stigma in Ottawa Project

In February 2019, approximately 200 local stakeholders came together for the Ottawa Summit on Opioids, Substance Use and Mental Health to discuss issues and ideas for action and identify opportunities to support wellness and recovery for people who use substances. As a result of this summit, tackling stigma became a key priority in the Ottawa Community Action Plan: Comprehensive Mental Health and Substance Use Strategy — Focus on Opioids.

Using Collective Impact

Collective Impact is a cross-sector approach. It uses a structured form of collaboration to bring people together to solve complex social issues. The Reducing Stigma in Ottawa project is building on this evidence-based framework to explore how our growing network of interested partners can work collaboratively to design, implement and refine a sustainable plan to end stigma in the nation’s capital.

Goals of the Project

Key goals and actions for this project include reducing stigma and raising awareness about substance use through:

  • Promoting collaboration among the mental health and substance use sectors, and emergency department (ED) physicians to develop activities that increase awareness of the impacts of substance use on vulnerable populations;
  • Providing education and resources to address stigma and stigmatizing language to shift the professional opinions of ED staff about people who have problematic substance use or substance use disorders; and
  • Consulting with ED physicians in developing a stigma and prevention strategy that engages ED staff and acknowledges the role they play in reducing and challenging stigma in EDs.

The Emergency Department 

Engaging EDs is key to the success of this project. EDs are often the first point of contact for vulnerable individuals seeking healthcare services. People with lived and living experience report feeling stigmatized by ED staff. In many cases, they feel they are labelled for their substance use and other health conditions they might have are ignored.

The Need for Emergency Physicians

Engaging ED physicians will contribute to the success of this project. Their insight into the challenges faced by EDs, as well as their personal experiences interacting with individuals who have problematic substance use or substance use disorder, is essential to reducing stigma within EDs and the healthcare sector.

How to Participate

CCSA wants to hear from ED physicians, both in Ottawa and throughout Canada, who are interested in participating in this project. Please contact to receive more information on the project requirements.


CCSA was created by Parliament to provide national leadership to address substance use in Canada. A trusted counsel, we provide national guidance to decision makers by harnessing the power of research, curating knowledge and bringing together diverse perspectives. CCSA activities and products are made possible through a financial contribution from Health Canada. The views of CCSA do not necessarily represent the views of the Government of Canada.

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