Two graduates of the Master of Public Health program at South Dakota State University recently presented research posters at the American Public Health Association 2023 Annual Meeting and Expo. The event took place in Atlanta, Georgia, Nov. 12-15.
Sarah Schweitzer and Cedric Cogdill, 2023 graduates of the program, presented on research related to stigma surrounding substance use disorder, utilizing survey data.
The work they presented was completed through START-SD (Stigma, Treatment, Avoidance, and Recovery in Time for South Dakota), a program to increase access to and effectiveness of prevention, treatment and recovery services for substance use disorders in South Dakota.
Schweitzer – Dissonance in public understanding of substance use disorder
Schweitzer’s poster focused on dissonances in the responses to questions on her survey related to public attitudes of substance use disorder. For example, one question on the survey reported, “It is important for individuals with a substance use disorder to be part of a supportive community.” Some 97.3% of respondents agreed with that statement. At the same time, however, other survey items that might align with building a supportive community had a far lower response, such as “I would willingly live in the same neighborhood as an individual with a substance use disorder.” Only 59.46% of respondents agreed with that.
Another significant example included dissonance in responses related to believing substance use disorder is an illness and believing individuals with a substance use disorder “can stop if they really want to.” According to the poster, the responses indicate “there is a lack of understanding among the public” and that more education and awareness regarding substance use disorder is needed.
Schweitzer said that through working on this project, “I experienced a lot of professional and personal growth.” Similarly, Schweitzer said attending and presenting at the APHA Annual Meeting and Expo “allowed me to network with other public health professionals and learn about their experiences in addressing health issues. The conversations held diversified my perspectives and deepened my insight on working toward health equity in our state.”
Following graduation, Schweitzer accepted a position as a community care coordinator with the Community Practice Innovation Center at SDSU, where she has begun work on its latest project to improve cardiovascular and diabetes care across South Dakota. She also has plans to attend medical school.
Cogdill – Factors associated with experiencing stigma
Cogdill’s poster focused on how social determinants of health and other factors are associated with experiencing stigma for individuals experiencing a substance use disorder. Survey results indicated that that most survey participants experienced all three types of stigma: discrimination, alienation and perceived devaluation. For survey respondents, factors significantly associated with experiencing more stigma included female gender, unemployment or having an annual family income of less than $51,000.
According to the poster, the findings “can be utilized to develop targeted efforts within South Dakota including expanding workforce development opportunities for those in treatment or recovery and development of messaging for women.”
According to Cogdill, working on this project allowed him to gain a variety of valuable skills. “I gained experience in data analysis, how to interpret real-life data and how to present my data in different ways Also, through this project, I gained experience working in a team environment.”
Cogdill said one of his favorite parts of attending the APHA Annual Meeting and Expo was “being able to network with other public health professionals from many different places.”
Cogdill completed his Master of Public Health degree and is currently on the job hunt. In the meantime, he says he plans to continue working with the START-SD research team, including on a manuscript publication of the work he presented.
Both Schweitzer and Cogdill’s work was completed through the START-SD program. START-SD (Stigma, Treatment, Avoidance, and Recovery in Time for South Dakota) is SDSU’s program to address substance use disorder in South Dakota. The program has been ongoing since 2019. SDSU faculty members Erin Miller, Patricia Ahmed, Christopher Robbins and Aaron Hunt also played key roles in Schweitzer and Cogdill’s work.