Stop Judging; Start Healing, a summit seeking to reduce the stigma surrounding substance use disorder, will make eight stops in 2023.

The summit is an effort of VitAL, which aims to help friends, family and medical professionals speak more effectively about people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders. 

The summit’s organizers believe that particular language can harm those suffering from substance use disorders. 

The statewide campaign will also include television, social media and radio advertisements to convince people to use “people-first” language. 

“People-first” language describes a person as possessing a disorder rather than identifying a person with their disorder. For instance, someone using “people first” language would say “a person with a drug addiction” as opposed to a “drug addict.”

The summit is open to health care professionals, social workers, counselors, educators, law enforcement and others. It will include breakout sessions and keynote speakers such as Damon West and Ryan Leaf.

Once a Division 1 quarterback at the University of North Texas and a stockbroker for United Bank of Switzerland, West became addicted to methamphetamine and was sentenced to 65 years in prison. 

While incarcerated, he experienced a spiritual awakening and was released from prison after seven years. He has now authored several books, including “The Coffee Bean: A simple Lesson to Create Positive Change” and “The Change Agent: How a Former College QB Sentenced to Life in Prison Transformed His World.”

Leaf was also a former quarterback who played at Washington State, where he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, and in the NFL for four seasons before ending his career due to poor play, bad behavior and injuries. 

In 2010, he experienced legal trouble involving drugs and pled guilty to burglary and drug possession in 2012. After he was released in 2014, he became a Program Ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community, which operates sober living houses across the country.

West will speak in Florence, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and Opelika. Leaf will speak in Dothan, Mobile, Prattville and Birmingham.

The summit’s schedule goes as follows:

  • January 17: Florence, Shoals Marriott Hotel 

  • January 18: Huntsville, Jackson Center

  • January 19: Tuscaloosa, Bryant Conference Center

  • January 20: Opelika, Marriott Grand National 

  • January 23: Dothan, Wiregrass Public Safety Center

  • January 24: Mobile, Riverview Plaza Hotel 

  • January 25: Prattville, Marriott Capitol Hill 

  • January 26: Birmingham, Grand Bohemian Hotel

It will take place from 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 a.m. in all locations and will cost $35 to attend. Attendees will also receive breakfast and lunch.

Health care and other specified professionals can earn continuing education credit for attending.

Those who want to attend can register here.

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