3 groups of people hospitals should target in an opioid awareness campaign

If America wants to end the nation's worst drug overdose crisis in modern history, hospitals and health systems will have to do much of the heavy lifting.

Approximately 75 percent of illicit opioid users who began using the drugs in the 2000s started with a prescription opioid, compared to the 80 percent of users who started with heroin in the 1960s, according to data from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Drug Abuse. The increased availability of prescription opioids has caused devastating consequences for Americans. From 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 U.S. residents died from drug overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the CDC.

When considering these numbers, it's not surprising hospital and health system leaders are increasingly prioritizing opioid reduction efforts at their facilities, with systems like Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare pledging to lower opioid prescriptions 40 percent by the end of 2018.

At the same time, more hospitals and health systems are turning to educational campaigns to encourage healthier behaviors among patient populations. The concurrent rise of population health and the opioid crisis puts hospitals and health systems in a unique position to educate patients and communities about the risks associated with opioid use.

One health system stepping up to the plate in this regard is Dayton, Ohio-based Premier Health. Premier's community is among those hit hardest by the opioid crisis. In 2017, the Montgomery County's coroner's office — located in Dayton — struggled to manage an overflow of bodies from fatal opioid overdoses on several occasions. The office, which sometimes received up to a dozen corpses in a single day, had to rent refrigerated trailers last May to house excess bodies. Premier Health has also seen an influx of opioid overdose patients, treating 2,500 individuals for overdoses in the first six months of 2017.

To the address the burden of opioid addiction in its community, Premier Health administrators tapped New York City-based advertising firm DeVito/Verdi. The ad firm has previously worked on public health campaigns with Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital, University of Chicago Medicine and San Diego-based Scripps Health.

Premier Health rolled out the ads in December of last year on radio, television and print formats.

One of the ads DeVito/Verdi created for Premier Health features an image of a luxury watch with accompanying text that reads, "My dad's watch. Swiss-Made. Stainless steel construction. That's worth like a bunch of hits. … The world looks different when you're addicted to opioids."

Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/Verdi, says the Premier Health campaign targets three sets of individuals.

1. At-risk individuals. The first target is people who may be on the cusp of developing an opioid use problem. These individuals may misuse opioids, but have not yet developed an addiction. Ads geared toward this group are meant to instill fear over the consequences of addiction.

2. Loved ones. The second target is people who know an individual who is misusing opioids, such as family, friends and teachers, according to Mr. Verdi. These ads are meant to educate individuals on the issue, so they can recognize when a loved one has developed a problem.

3. Opioid misusers. Those who've already developed an opioid addiction make up the third target. These ads seek to encourage those with and opioid use problem to get help. It's important ads aimed at these individuals not perpetuate the stigma associated with drug addiction.

"Much of the conversation with an addicted person is not to call them an addict or berate them or typify their problem," Mr. Verdi says. "Advertising for this third group needs to be reflective of the individuals it's targeting. We want to put up a mirror. When you put up a mirror, they understand it."

To see the ads and learn more about the campaign, click here.

More articles on opioids: 
Narcan distribution helps lower opioid deaths in New York county 
Las Vegas pain physician arrested for illegal fentanyl distribution: 5 things to know 
5 healthcare workers offer their take on opioid addiction

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