CDC Launches New Campaign Against Rx Opioids

CDC Launches New Campaign Against Rx Opioids

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a new marketing campaign to combat the abuse of prescription opioids – a campaign that completely ignores the increasing role of heroin and illicit fentanyl in the nation’s overdose crisis.

The Rx Awareness campaign will use videos, online advertising, billboards, newspapers and radio ads to increase awareness “about the risks of prescription opioids and stop inappropriate use.” The campaign will initially run for 14 weeks in Ohio, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and New Mexico, with a broader release expected as additional states receive funding through CDC programs. No estimate of the cost of the campaign was released.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is committed to using evidence-based methods to communicate targeted messages about the opioid crisis and prevent addiction and misuse in every way we can,” HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, said in a statement. 

The Rx Awareness campaign features “real-life accounts” of people recovering from opioid addiction or who have lost loved ones to a prescription opioid overdose.

“Prescription opioids can be addictive and dangerous,” a woman says in an online banner ad.

“One prescription can be all it takes to lose everything,” a man says in another ad.

Although addictive behavior typically starts during adolescence, the Rx Awareness campaign is targeting adults aged 25-54 who have used prescription opioids at least once either medically or recreationally.


“We learned that adults between the ages of 45 and 54 had not yet been targeted by a broad-reaching campaign. This information was reinforced by surveillance data indicating that the population with the highest fatality rate from opioid overdoses was non-Hispanic white adults ages 45–54,” the CDC said in an unusually detailed explanation of the rationale behind the campaign.

“We also found a need for communication efforts to deliver primary prevention messages to younger audiences ages 25–35, who are less likely to experience chronic pain but may be exposed to opioids for other reasons, such as having a sports injury or undergoing a dental procedure.”

The four states initially being targeted all have soaring rates of opioid overdoses, but in recent years most of the deaths have been linked to heroin and illicit fentanyl, not prescription opioids. 

The latest report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, for example, shows prescription opioids were involved in only 15 percent of opioid-related overdose deaths in the first quarter of 2017. Fentanyl was involved in 81 percent of the Massachusetts deaths and heroin in 39 percent of them. 

The CDC said heroin is not mentioned in the Rx Awareness campaign because it doesn’t want to “dilute” its primary message.

“The campaign does not include messages about heroin. Specificity is a best practice in communication, and the Rx Awareness campaign messaging focuses on the critical issue of prescription opioids. Given the broad target audience, focusing on prescription opioids avoids diluting the campaign messaging. Heroin is a related topic that also needs formative research and message testing,” the CDC said.

One of the video testimonials featured in the campaign is the story of Steve Rummler, a Minnesota man with chronic back pain who became addicted to painkillers. Rummler died of a heroin overdose at the age of 43.

His mother Judy, who appears in the video, founded the non-profit Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, an anti-opioid activist group. The Rummler foundation is the “fiscal sponsor” of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), a designation that allows PROP to collect tax deductible donations using the foundation’s non-profit status. PROP founder Andrew Kolodny, MD, is listed as a member of the Rummler foundation’s medical advisory committee, as is PROP President Jane Ballantyne, MD.

The CDC said it developed the videos and other campaign material using a “mixed-method design integrating data from in-depth interviews and a quasi-experimental, one-group retrospective post-then-pretest (RPTP) survey was used to assess target audiences’ responses to campaign messages.”

In the other words, they did a pilot study. The CDC said most participants thought the campaign material was “attention grabbing, believable and meaningful.” Many also said they would share the video testimonials with others.   

“This campaign is part of CDC’s continued support for states on the frontlines of the opioid overdose epidemic,” said CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, MD. “These heartbreaking stories of the devastation brought on by opioid abuse have the potential to open eyes – and save lives.”

4 Responses

  1. Turned on CSPAN this morning and the people on there are “ginning” up the FALSE opioid crisis. Totally ignores pain management. Man on there did not want to hear about cannabis for pain.

  2. Nothing but one lie after the next! I also am tired of my tax money being spent for LIES. I am also tired of hearing these mothers come on whose children have overdosed (child NEVER held accountable for own actions) and blaming an “opioid” prescription for death. I thought Trump was smarter than this.

  3. “One prescripton can be all it takes to lose everything,”” they say. What hyperbole and hysteria. Reminds me of the reefer madness nonsense back in the day. How about a national campaign to warn about alcohol?

    I’m not saying this is not serious,it is to some degree.Especially keep them away from young people. But alcohol should be kept away from young people also.One drink can be all it takes to lose everything.

    They still ignore the distinction of those in need of this med. for legit medical conditions.Who use it responsibly.Who don’t become addicted,other than a medical dependence,which is different than “addiction” I don’t belittle the need to educate the public,and I realize some have died.But please,keep it in perspective.It still remains a fact according to the United Nations office on drug control,that only 10% of users of any substance,have a problem with that substance.Please stop the fearnongering toward the other 90%.

    Those who use this substance for continual pain wouldn’t move on to heroin even if fell from the sky.The gateway drug to heroin is alcohol.Many years ago a Vietnam vet friend of mine,who drank himself to death before he was 30,came back from nam addicted to heroin.He didn’t want to deal with the element that sells it here,so he drank,a lot, instead.One day he lifted up his vodka bottle and said to me,”Gary,This is liquid heroin.” I’ve never forgot that,or him.Keep alcohol and pills away from the abusers and the kids.Try to bust up the people that sell heroin and illegal pills,and lock them up.Go after the cartels,but please,keep this in perspective.Dont punish pain patients in the effort to stop abusers.They are not the same,and the world won’t end.

  4. STOP USEING MY TAX DOLLARS FOR LIES,, but why isn’t their 1 person on this cdc bullshit who was tortured to death via denial of pain relief?SOOO now my tax dolars are being use to promote bigotry and lies,,,,,lovely corrupt government we have,,,NOT!!!!

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