Logo for VitAL summit with tagline, "Stop Judging; Start Healing Summit."

UA, ADMH to Host Statewide Events on Substance Misuse Stigma

Logo for VitAL with slogan "Improving Wellness in Alabama."TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Mental Health will host a series of professional development conferences across the state in January for those interested in understanding the stigma of individuals with substance and opioid use disorders.

The “Stop Judging; Start Healing Stigma Summit 2023” will be held in eight locations across Alabama from Jan. 17-26 and features speakers Ryan Leaf and Damon West, two former college football quarterbacks whose substance misuse led to jail time and, ultimately, a career inspiring others to seek treatment.

Summit topics include the disease of addiction, general stigma, stigma in the primary care setting, combating stigma for law enforcement and first responders, understanding trauma’s relation to substance use, and addiction stigma and the criminal justice system.

The in-person events are designed for physicians, certified registered nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, physician assistants, pharmacists, dentists, social workers, counselors, educators, first responders, attorneys, judges and others whose work intersects with substance use disorders. Breakout sessions will offer tracks for healthcare professionals and those working in the criminal justice system.

For many professions, 5.75 hours of instruction are available for professional development.

“When people with addiction are stigmatized and discarded within healthcare and the judicial system, it only promotes the vicious cycle that is embedded in their disease,” said Dr. Ellen Robertson, project director for VitAL at UA.

The VitAL initiative, in the UA School of Social Work, has been working to educate and bring awareness to the stigma associated with substance use disorders since 2017. Through a framework of providers and partnerships between the University of Alabama and state agencies, VitAL aims to improve wellness in Alabama through engagement, collaboration, research, and education.

Each of the eight events start at 8:15 a.m. and end at 4:15 p.m. The $35 cost includes breakfast and lunch. Online registration is open for each event until the day of the event.


  • Jan. 17: Florence, Shoals Marriott Hotel with Damon West
  • Jan. 18: Huntsville, Jackson Center with Ryan Leaf
  • Jan. 19: Tuscaloosa, Bryant Conference Center with Damon West
  • Jan. 20: Opelika, Marriott Grand National with Damon West
  • Jan. 23: Dothan, Wiregrass Public Safety Center with Ryan Leaf
  • Jan. 24: Mobile, Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel with Ryan Leaf
  • Jan. 25: Prattville, Marriott Capitol Hill with Ryan Leaf
  • Jan. 26: Birmingham, Grand Bohemian Hotel with Ryan Leaf

Visit vitalalabama.com/stop-judging-start-healing-stigma-summits/ to register.


Adam Jones, UA communications, 205-348-4328, adam.jones@ua.edu