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New paper evaluates communication campaign strategies to address the opioid crisis

Results indicate driving demand for substance use treatments is more effective at reducing overdose deaths than awareness-raising alone

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Public health communication campaigns related to substance use can have a greater impact on reducing overdose deaths if they move beyond awareness-raising messaging. That is the conclusion of a new paper titled, “Opioid-Related Public Health Communication Campaigns: An Environmental Scan,” from RTI International, a nonprofit research institute.

Experts from RTI reviewed 166 online-accessible opioid-related campaigns to understand the current state of the science and practice of campaigns to address the opioid crisis. They found that the more effective campaigns drive demand for evidence-based treatments — such as increasing access to naloxone and medications for opioid use disorder — and reduce stigma related to treatment and recovery.

“Communication campaigns show promise to reduce opioid use disorders and overdose deaths,” said Jenna Frkovich, a communications analyst at RTI and lead author of the paper. “Our results reveal an opportunity to maximize their effectiveness by developing more tailored messages for priority stakeholders that motivate adoption of evidence-based treatments, shift stigmatizing attitudes and support people on their path to recovery.”

The paper’s findings indicate that campaigns should prioritize people with lived experience, providers, and community leaders, given their important roles as advocates, facilitators and gatekeepers for overdose prevention and treatment services. The authors also note that campaign planners should conduct formative research and make results publicly available for other campaign sponsors with limited resources.

“The opioid overdose epidemic continues to devastate lives across the U.S. and proven public health communication practices are needed to reach those being impacted,” added Frkovich.

The paper was published by the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Read the full paper

Learn more about RTI’s work to understand, prevent and treat opioid misuse