UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (WTAJ) — Penn State is getting ready for its first-ever conference on substance use disorder stigma awareness and reduction.

The first-annual Substance Use Stigma Reduction Collaborative is at the HUB-Robeson Center on Thursday, September 22 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The event brings together professors and researchers in different fields from across the country.

Keynote speaker Dr. Alex Elswick, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist for Substance Use Prevention and Recovery at the University of Kentucky, says he made it his goal to reduce stigma after he suffered from opioid use disorder when he was just 18 years old.

“People who become addicted are not a different kind of person,” Elswick said. “They need to understand that it really is your brother, your neighbor, your mom, yourself.”

Elswick co-founded Voices of Hope, a recovery community for those suffering from substance use disorder. He’s also a mental health therapist.

A recent Penn State article written by criminal justice professors says overdose deaths have increased by more than 600% in Pennsylvania’s rural areas over the past 20 years.

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Registration is $45 per person until September 15 and $55 until the day of the event.

Other professors and researchers will present research abstracts and special panel sessions.