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Melissa Mauldin

Fighting the opioid crisis requires strategic communications

Melissa Mauldin | January 11, 2018

In the midst of a public health crisis, people expect and rely on factual and timely information. Our national opioid crisis is a perfect example of the growing need for accurate data and scientifically backed tips and treatment methods.

Most of us go to the web as a first step to find information, making it even more important that top search results provide relevant, factual information.

In a rare move, Google recently began restricting ads served when visitors used the search engine to search for addiction treatment centers. With so many people experiencing the disease of addiction, drug treatment has grown into a $35 billion market. Too many businesses paid for ads to direct those seeking information on recovery centers to their sites. A person typing “drug rehabilitation near me” was directed, in many cases, to businesses with only a tenuous connection to professional drug treatment.

Professionals in the drug treatment field praised Google’s decision, which Google officials made in consultation with recovery experts. Google’s decision followed a story by The Verge explaining how unethical businesses, and even fraudulent enterprises, use AdWords to direct the public to their sites.

The issue highlighted the importance of sharing good, substantiated, public health information to the growing audience. It not only helped remove untrustworthy information from Google searches, but it also removed much of the visual clutter, allowing critical messaging to reach the people who need it.

Recently declared a national public emergency by President Donald Trump, the opioid epidemic represents one of the deadliest public health crises to face the nation, resulting in more than 64,000 deaths—half of which resulted from legally prescribed opioids.

Like any crisis, strategic, timely and effective communication plays a critical role. For decades, public health organizations have long understood medical science and communication are essential to protect the public’s health.

At A. Bright Idea, our passion, not only for cause marketing, but cause communication, runs deep, particularly when it comes to public health education and treatment on drug and alcohol abuse. Our work with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Bel Air Center for Addictions applies the latest scientific knowledge to our communications and outreach. Those federal and private sector clients recognize getting their message out to the public requires both sound public health science and policies, coupled with effective communication strategies. It is essential to communicate scientific information in ways the public can understand and learn from, helping to make changes in their lives or to help loved ones.

When crafting a message, whether that be public service announcements, editorial columns, speeches or fact sheets, you must understand not only the goal of the message, but the audience. What will make this resonate? How will they respond? What do you want them to do next? How can they take that message and share it further? In some cases, that involves using spokespersons with social media influence, or developing information graphics to demonstrate key data points in a highly visual way, or sharing personal testimonials to help the audience form an emotional understanding or connection.

With the death toll rising from the misuse of opioids, the public needs that partnership of treatment experts and communicators more than ever. We’re proud to support great organizations in the fight and help to educate those in need build stronger communities. Helping people find their way is one of the most emotionally rewarding work we can do.

One thought on “Fighting the opioid crisis requires strategic communications”

  1. Thank you, ABI, for talking about addiction and encouraging more conversations. Medical science, and decades of research have demonstrated that Opioid addiction is a chronic, often relapsing disease that responds to evidence-based treatment – much like hypertension or diabetes. Addiction is not a moral failing or a sign of weakness. Our conversations should respect and support those who’ve sought care, and work to remove the stigma of the disease and its treatments. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) all refer to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) as the gold standard of care.
    Opioid addiction is a complex disease that develops overtime, changes the brain and nervous system’s functioning and can lead to death when left untreated. Having conversations about addiction and its treatments, strategic and otherwise, can reduce the barrier of stigma, and help everyone move closer to recovery. I thank ABI for starting this conversation and encourage readers to learn more at http://beforeitstoolate.maryland.gov and at https://www.shatterproof.org.

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