The stigma surrounding addiction creates barriers to community action and prevents people from getting the help they need. Awareness and education are vital to reducing that stigma.
As a community broadens its understanding — and acceptance — that addiction is a disease rather than a moral failing, it will be better able to galvanize, empower, and resource its disparate members to attack the problem. Not every approach to promote public awareness will work for every community. Review the following approaches used by others to educate their communities to see what might resonate best with your community.
Bring Community Education Programs to Raise Awareness
Successful community education programs are a key part of prevention efforts and can begin with just a few committed leaders and members within a community. This can include parents or other concerned adults, law enforcement agencies working to protect and connect with community members, or prevention organizations and treatment providers working to change community attitudes and behaviors around substance use. To implement these programs, communities need to work in collaboration with stakeholders to integrate programming into existing efforts. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids has a library of education programming for communities to use as part of these education and prevention efforts. They also created an easy-to-follow guide, A How-To Guide to Organizing Community Education Programs, to help communities integrate the Partnership’s education programming. The guide walks communities through each step: plan, get partners, train partners, and deliver educational programming. It teaches the reader how to get partners on board, how to train presenters, and even how to best market a community event.
- “Community Education.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Accessed November 2018.
- “A How-To Guide to Organizing Community Education Programs in Your Community.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Accessed November 2018.
Share Engaging Videos that Describe Addiction, Prevention, and Treatment
When people are educated on the science of addiction and how substance use disorder can hijack our brains, it serves to prevent first-time use of substances and to reduce stigma and myths and misinformation that keep substance use disorders (SUDs) from being treated like any other medical condition. To help educate on this science, the Addiction Policy Forum created a series of two- to three-minute videos that offer educational episodes meant to be consumed like “snack-packs” of key scientific information. These videos can be used for prevention and public education and are short enough to be used in meetings or shared on social media.
- “The Addiction Series.” Addiction Policy Forum. Accessed November 2018.
Hold a Community Screening of NOVA’s “Addiction” Documentary
For communities looking to jumpstart a conversation and a plan, holding a community event around common media broadcasts is a great way to educate, raise awareness, and convene stakeholders. In October 2018, NOVA premiered “Addiction” on PBS. The entire documentary is available for viewing online. The film focuses on the science behind substance use disorder and features families reeling from this epidemic, including S.A.F.E. founders Mary and Sandy Winnefeld. The documentary contains first-hand accounts from people who struggle with substance use disorder alongside the doctors and scientists investigating why addiction is a chronic, treatable medical condition and not a moral failing. As part of PBS’s education and outreach plan for “Addiction,” NOVA has created a free community screening toolkit, giving communities the opportunity to host their own screening events. The toolkit includes a screening guide with background science and tips to help plan your event, as well as a free DVD copy of the film. Any interested organization can find more information and request a free screening kit.
- “Addiction.” PBS. Accessed November 2018.
- “Addiction: Sign Up for a Community Screening.” PBS. Accessed November 2018.
Urge Your State to Create a Statewide Collaborative Awareness Campaign to Stop Opioid Abuse
When looking to communicate the issues, risks, and consequences of the opioid and addiction crisis, communities routinely create awareness campaigns with a distinctive style, look, and feel. These campaigns can be incredibly effective but are difficult to design and plan on a small scale. Creating a consolidated statewide campaign can offer several benefits in economies of scale and collaborative efforts by leveraging the resources and buying power of multiple communities. By working together, communities and states can create a more robust campaign with better results. In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance (CPA) realized statewide action needed to be taken to prevent non-medical opioid use, so they created PA Stop, providing free materials about opioid addiction designed to educate citizens about the risks of prescription-painkiller and heroin use, the relationship between the two, and what to do when you need help. The campaign works to prevent non-medical use of prescription painkillers and, in so doing, helps break the connection between heroin and prescription painkillers. The PA Stop toolkit materials inform communities on how to approach the opioid epidemic from different angles. Its website offers free information on prevention, parenting, workplace advice, naloxone, medicine disposal, and prescription drugs. It also offers promotional materials (T-shirts, banners, fliers, stickers, etc.). What’s more, PA Stop offers these materials to Pennsylvania communities for free. For communities outside of Pennsylvania, there is a small fee. The information provided on its website is free of charge.
- “PA Stop.” PA Stop. Accessed November 2018.
Engage with the Arts to Tell the Story of Addiction
Art can bring a message to a community in a different, engaging way. By involving the dramatic or visual arts, a public awareness effort can reach a different audience. Addicted: The Play is a powerful tool and platform for engaging your community or school in meaningful dialogue about drug and alcohol use and addiction. The performance brings awareness to the issue of substance use disorder and encourages frank talk about the dangers of substance use disorder among teens and young adults. This play portrays the struggle of three young adults with a variety of addictions and tells the story of the impact of their addictions on their friends, families, and significant others. Addicted: The Play can be used as an educational tool for high schools, colleges, churches, theaters, recovery centers, or anyone wanting to learn more about drugs, alcohol, and addiction. Use the play as a starting point for a community or school conversation.
- “Addicted: The Play.” Harford County (Maryland) Department of Community Services, Office of Drug Control Policy. Accessed November 2018.
Naloxone and Overdose Awareness Education Flier
Making sure community members are educated on how naloxone can save the life of someone suffering from an overdose is key to decreasing rising overdose rates. Communities can create a flier to teach how to recognize the signs of opioid overdose, whom to call for help, and where to get naloxone training, as well as a contact number to call if they know someone who needs help with addiction. This City of Alexandria flier offers clear instructions on how to recognize an overdose. The reverse side details what Alexandria, Virginia, is doing to respond to the crisis in its community. Communities can easily adapt this flier with their own information or translate it into Spanish or other prominent languages used within their communities.
- “How to Spot an Overdose.” City of Alexandria, Virginia. Accessed November 2018.
Peer-to-Peer Speakers for Communities
The most valuable resource a community has is people with lived experience, those who have been touched by addiction. These community members have incredible stories to tell that educate their neighbors on the far-reaching consequences of the opioid and addiction epidemic. Communities should organize peer-to-peer presentations. These will have the most powerful impact and can rely upon the individual experience of the peer as well as the best practices we have learned from other thought leaders. S.A.F.E. is building a network of speakers in communities, trained and ready to assist with peer-to-peer presentations at no cost to talk about stigma, signs of addiction, and the opioid crisis. For more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Engage with Local Media to Write Articles
Create a group of community leaders who will partner with local journalists to identify media tie-ins and coordinate your coalition’s activity. This group would consist of community leaders, likely coordinated through the Chamber of Commerce, and would serve to identify local media opportunities that coordinate with national objectives. Remember that your local media outlets’ publisher, general manager, or director of community engagement may be interested in joining your coalition. Working together, your coalition can build editorial calendars at the community or state level to identify community educational events, rallies or activism events, and community organizations offering programs and services. Ideally, your group would identify a spokesperson with communications, public relations, or marketing experience to pitch stories to local media. S.A.F.E. can offer national communication support when media outlets are interested in stories that have local ties along with national perspective and reach.
Bring Existing Media Campaigns to Your Community
Many states, jurisdictions, and national organizations have created successful media campaigns to educate communities on prescription drug abuse, public health, and underage drinking. Most are social marketing campaigns, developed to promote specific prevention or health-promotion messages. Similar media campaigns can help raise awareness of these issues in your community. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration catalogues these Substance Misuse Prevention Media Campaigns for reference.
Adapt National Campaigns to Your Community
The phrase “A rising tide lifts all boats” certainly applies when working together to change your community. There are many national observations connected to substance use disorder, treatment, and recovery. Most of them provide free resources such as toolkits, banners, fliers and posters. By connecting your coalition or community to these national efforts, you join others to make a difference and leverage national visibility.
January: Every January, National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week focuses on connecting teens, scientists, and other experts to discuss how drugs affect the brain, body, and behaviors, in community and school events.
May/October: The DEA’s National Take Back Day happens twice a year — once in May and again in October. Americans can clean out their medicine cabinets and turn in — safely and anonymously — unused prescription drugs. The DEA also offers a year-round locator for where unused prescriptions can be turned in. • May: National Prevention Week is an annual health observance in May focused on increasing public awareness of, and action around, mental and/or substance use disorders.
September: Every September is recognized as National Drug Addiction Recovery Month.
October: Red Ribbon Week is the last week of October and mobilizes communities to educate youth and encourage drug prevention activities.
- “National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed November 2018.
- “DEA National Take Back.” Drug Enforcement Administration. Accessed November 2018.
- “Diversion Control Division.” Drug Enforcement Administration. Accessed November 2018.
- “National Recovery Month.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed November 2018.
- “Red Ribbon Campaign.” Red Ribbon Campaign. Accessed November 2018.
Build Your Communication or Social Marketing Campaigns and Programs
Changing social norms is a proven method to implement prevention strategies, and social marketing is a useful method to achieve that goal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Gateway to Health Communication & Social Marketing Practice provides tools and templates communities can use to develop communication and social marketing campaigns and programs. This resource provides tips on analyzing your audience, choosing appropriate tools, and evaluating the success of your messages and campaigns.