When Kyle I., a Dallas man who experimented with OxyContin at a couple parties, became addicted to the powerful painkiller, he smashed his hand with a hammer so he could get more drugs. Amy P. of Columbus crashed her car into a dumpster when she became desperate for Vicodin. Chris G. of Atlanta intentionally broke his own arm to feed his addiction and and Joe S. of Maine crushed himself under a car to get an easy painkiller prescription.
These four stories, all true, are highlighted in the Trump administration’s first wave of anti-opioid public service announcements, made with the Ad Council and the Truth Initiative and released on Thursday. Meant to stem the tide of the opioid epidemic, which is killing 115 people in the country every day, the ads are one of the first concrete steps the White House has made toward beating back the opioid crisis.
The goal of the ads, which are targeted at 18-to-24 year olds, is to “increase awareness, increase knowledge, and ultimately shift attention and behavior,” says Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative. “We want them to learn more, and more important than learning for themselves, we want them to share that information with others. Finally, we want to destigmatize this issue. Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing, and one of the ways we can hopefully solve this and to help educate young people and get them to be part of the solution, is to take away the shame and the stigma.”
Dubbed “The Truth About Opioids” ad campaign, the ads will be rolled out on a variety of platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, and Vice. Koval says the Truth Initiative is also working with Amazon to ensure that Alexa answers questions about opioids with accurate and helpful information and resources. “Anything that’s directed toward this audience is going to have to be multi-channel,” she says.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Kellyanne Conway said that ads are meant to show “how quickly some people can become hooked and addicted and the lengths to which they will go.” They’re also clearly meant to shock viewers.
“I’ve watched people watch these ads,” Koval said. “You get a little bit of that sucking of the breath and ‘I want to look away, but I can’t look away,’ which is exactly what we wanted. But the next beat is, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that it takes five days to become dependent.’ Or, ‘Wow, those people look just like my brother, my sister, my schoolmate.”
She emphasized the importance of the peer-to-peer communication of the ads, which stands apart from the finger-waggin, “Just Say No” style of anti-drugs PSAs popular in the ’80s and ’90s.
Koval emphasized that the PSA campaign is one part of what’s needed to make a dent in the opioid epidemic. “There’s of course many, many facets of what’s creating the opioid epidemic and lots of people who are further down the funnel who need treatments and recovery services. What we want to do is to stop filling that funnel,” she said.