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New video campaign aims to reduce youth opioid abuse

Advertisements warn viewers that “opioid dependence can happen after just five days”

In collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Health, tobacco control organization Truth Initiative released an educational campaign aiming to inform young people of the severity of opioid addiction within the Ocean State.

The opioid epidemic, a national crisis, hits young people hard. One in five deaths of young adults were opioid-related in 2016, according to Truth Initiative’s CEO and President Robin Koval.

Brandon Marshall, associate professor of epidemiology at the University, noted that the opioid epidemic is particularly serious in Rhode Island. “(In 2013), we had one of the highest overdose fatality rates in the country,” Marshall said. He added that Rhode Island has since made progress, dropping to tenth highest in the nation in 2017.

The state collaboration with Truth Initiative aims to “present these typical examples that young people may find themselves in … and then let people know that if someone were to take opioids in that situation, they could get addicted in just five days. It’s that quick,” said Joseph Wendelken, the public information officer of the RIDOH. “Our hope is that we are empowering young people … (to) make decisions about what is best for them and their future,” he said.

Consisting of a four-part video series entitled “Best Day,” the campaign depicts fictional scenarios of what should be hopeful teenage milestones — but instead foreshadows the ways their lives will be affected by opioid addiction. In one advertisement, a young athlete speaks at his basketball team’s senior day. “Next year, I’m going to blow out my knee,” he says to his teammates and family in the video. “I’ll be prescribed opioid painkillers, and I’ll become addicted. In a few years, I’ll overdose from heroin.”

The campaign started running Jan. 15 in Rhode Island on television stations, as well as on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, Koval said.

The series is part of Truth Initiative’s larger campaign, The Truth About Opioids, which has been active in Rhode Island since 2018.

Truth Initiative’s preliminary data on the larger campaign “showed it was actually working after just six months to start shifting young people’s attitudes significantly … (on) the risks of misusing opioids, as well as (the) stigma” of reaching out to help people who are addicted, Koval said.

The partnership with Truth Initiative is just one part of Rhode Island’s plan to mitigate and eventually end the opioid crisis. Marshall, who focuses on substance use and abuse research, believes that Rhode Island is “not going to solve this problem with prevention alone or treatment alone,” he said. “It has to be part of a broader strategy that involves expanding access to treatment for people who are currently suffering from opioid addiction … (as well as implementing) harm reduction strategies.”


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