click to go to

News | June 15, 2021

SAFE Project Releases the Two-Part Series, Stigma: A Conversation About Addiction and Recovery

Today, we’re pleased to share with you the two-part series, Stigma: A Conversation About Addiction and Recovery. These videos were developed and produced in reflection of May’s Mental Health Month and aim to honor those who have experienced and continue to navigate the complexities of these diseases and the devastating impacts of stigma, which are often compounded by various systems of oppression.

These conversations channel the authentic, real-life stories of seven individuals who have been touched by the intersection of mental health challenges and substance use disorder. 

The purpose of these conversations is to highlight the impact of stigma over a lifetime, to bring to light the various ways in which stigma can present itself in our everyday lives, to challenge our nation’s perceptions, and to “accelerate understanding” as an educational and awareness-raising tool.

Disclaimer: Each of these videos details stigmatizing experiences and interactions with trauma and substance use disorder, which may be upsetting for some to watch. If needed, it is strongly recommended that you view these in the care of a trusted individual who can offer support.

As you view these videos, we encourage you to reflect on the following:

  • Consider a time you were made to feel shame about an aspect of your identity.
  • What are some things you have to unlearn or better understand about mental health and/or substance use disorders?
  • Where does stigma live in our society and how can you be a more proactive ally?

While these videos do not depict all viewpoints and experiences, SAFE Project hopes that they spark further discussion across our communities and initiate action-oriented change. In that spirit, we would like to invite our national, state, and local partners and our general audience to participate in an extended No Shame Twitter Chat conversation TODAY, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, at 1:30 p.m. EST using #SAFEnoshame.

SAFE Project would like to thank all of those who made this event possible, including our moderators, Ms. Brandee Izquierdo and Dr. Rahul Gupta.

Brandee Izquierdo, Doctoral Candidate, is the Executive Director of SAFE Project and is a person in long-term recovery. Before leading the SAFE Project team, Ms. Izquierdo  worked for Faces & Voices of Recovery as the Director of Advocacy and Outreach. In addition, she worked  as the Associate Director of Special Populations with Behavioral Health System Baltimore and as the Director of Consumer Affairs for the state of Maryland’s Behavioral Health Administration. Ms. Izquierdo has served as  a subject matter expert with Center for Social Innovation, Policy Research Associates, SAMHSA, and the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC). With a master’s degree in Public Administration and a bachelor’s degree in Government and Public Policy, Ms. Izquierdo  recently defended her dissertation for her Doctorate degree in Public Administration with a specialization in Administration Justice.  

Rahul Gupta, MD, MPH, MBA, FACP, is the Chief Medical and Health Officer and Senior Vice President at March of Dimes, the nation’s leader in mom and baby health.  Before joining the March of Dimes, Dr. Gupta served under two Governors as West Virginia’s Health Commissioner. Dr. Gupta, a specialist in internal medicine and preventive medicine, is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management and Leadership in the School of Public Health at West Virginia University and visiting faculty at T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health.  Dr. Gupta currently serves on the National Advisory Council for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as an ad hoc member of the Task Force on Research Specific to Pregnant Women and Lactating Women, on the Steering Committee for the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention, and as a SAFE Project board member.   

We are eternally grateful to our panelists, highlighted below, who courageously agreed to share their journey on camera. Each of them exudes the progress, hope, and resiliency that we all seek to achieve in this field.

Catherine “Cat” Baz is a student voice liaison for SAFE Project and a former participant in SAFE Campuses’ Collegiate Recovery Leadership Academy. A person in long-term recovery, a survivor of domestic violence, and an impassioned advocate, she works hard to give back to the communities that have given her so much.

Emil Ansom Caron is a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist who has been in recovery for over two years.  As a Military veteran and trauma survivor, he works on erasing the shame and stigma of military sexual trauma. After experiencing homelessness, trauma, substance use, criminal justice involvement, and mental health challenges, he entered the Volusia County drug court program and became the first participant in Volusia County to use medication assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid dependency.

Marsha Hawkins-Hourd is a pastor who serves on the Board of Directors of the Missouri Coalition of Recovery Support Providers and is Executive Director of the Child and Family Empowerment Center headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.

Kevin D. Nock is a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist currently working for the Maryland Office of Public Defenders in the Forensic Mental Health division as a Forensic Peer Specialist. 

Brittany Rieman, Ms. Wheelchair Maryland 2021, is an advocate who shares her platform –   awareness of substance use in and out of the disability community. She currently works for Accessible Resources for Independence as their Transition Specialist and serves as the Chair of the non-profit organization The Great Escape Recovery Lounge.

Jay Shifman is a vulnerable storyteller, a stigma-destroying speaker, and the host of the Choose Your Struggle podcast.  Learn more at:

Stacia Smith is a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist who has been navigating life without the use of drugs for 17 years and counting.  Stacia’s passion is tag teaming the disease of addiction to expose its presence and save lives.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation’s reported overdose deaths reached an all-time high.  Stigma continues to influence an entire continuum of care for those struggling. There is no shame in getting help for mental health and addiction.