White House Launches Anti-Opioid Ads Targeting Youth

June 7, 2018 Updated: June 7, 2018    

WASHINGTON—A new ad campaign that seeks to prevent youth from becoming addicted to opioids was launched June 7.

The ads use the real stories of young Americans who went to extreme lengths to feed their addiction—including one young man in Atlanta who broke his own arm by slamming it in a door to get more pain medication.

His addiction started when he took some Vicodin pills, a prescription pain medication, that his mother had left lying around the house.

Another young woman was prescribed Vicodin after knee surgery. “They kept prescribing it, so I kept taking it,” she says in the ad. “I didn’t know it would be this addictive.”

She intentionally crashed her car into some dumpsters to get more pain medication.

The campaign, “The Truth About Opioids,” is a White House initiative aimed at 18- to 24-year-olds. The greatest amount of opioid misuse occurs in this age group, according to Robin Koval, president and CEO of Truth Initiative, a partner in the campaign.

The ads contain the message that opioid dependence can happen in just five days.

Jim Carroll, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said he speaks to many parents who have lost children to opioids, and a lack of knowledge was the common thread.

“They didn’t know that the pills their doctor prescribed could be addictive,” Carroll said during a June 7 media call. “They didn’t know that the opioid pills that they bought on the street after becoming addicted could be counterfeit pills made with fentanyl. They didn’t know that the overwhelming majority of new heroin users misused prescription opioids first, and they didn’t know where to turn when they needed help.”

Around 80 percent of new heroin users were addicted to prescription opioids first. Fentanyl, originally developed as a painkiller and an anesthetic, is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin. Two milligrams of fentanyl is a lethal dose for a non-opioid user.

Carroll said the new ad campaign is designed to close the knowledge gap “so we can turn the tide on this crisis and save lives.”

The White House partnered with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Ad Council, and the Truth Initiative to create the ads, which will be pushed out on social media and television.

Lisa Sherman, CEO of the Ad Council, said a typical campaign like this costs around $30 million per year, but a lot of the big tech companies, including Google, Facebook, and YouTube, have donated ad space.

Carroll said no funding from the omnibus spending bill is being used for this campaign, but his agency has put money into it—although he declined to give a number. President Donald Trump donated his 2017 fourth-quarter salary to an opioid prevention campaign, but it was not used in this campaign.

Trump declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency on Oct. 26, 2017. In March, he unveiled a plan to the stop abuse and supply of opioids and also signed the omnibus, which provides almost $4 billion in fiscal 2018 to fight the epidemic.

The ads and related information can be viewed at Opioids.TheTruth.com