Drug overdose deaths reached nearly 108,000 in 2021, the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period and a staggering 52 percent increase over the previous two years. This rise in overdose-related deaths is being fueled by the prevalence of synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, which were involved in an estimated 66% of overdose deaths during this time period.  To address this issue, the Ad Council today announced a holistic approach to the overdose crisis, featuring two distinct initiatives: one with leading social media platforms Google, Meta and Snap and one with public health organizations to address the current overdose epidemic facing the United States that will be underway later this year. The efforts will roll out beginning in the summer of 2022 to educate young Americans and their parents and caregivers about the dangers and prevalence of fentanyl in counterfeit pills and illicit drugs, and, separately, to help individuals with substance use disorders navigate resources and start their recovery journey.
“There is so much that people don’t know about the substances they are using, including fentanyl, along with their potentially catastrophic effects,” said Lisa Sherman, President and CEO of the Ad Council. “Through these new campaigns, the Ad Council is taking on one of the biggest issues facing our nation to bring lifesaving awareness directly to those who need it.”
Over 190 people die each day from overdoses involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl. While 79% of teens say stress and anxiety are common reasons to misuse prescription medicine, 73% report they hadn’t heard of the risk of fentanyl being added to counterfeit pills. 
One of the initiatives under the Ad Council’s broader approach to address this crisis is in partnership with and funded by leading technology companies Google, Meta and Snap. These platforms and other services, including TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, Reddit and Vice Media, will play a critical role in donating media space as well as the development and distribution of content designed for teens and young adults to educate them about fentanyl and its dangers. Especially as young adults ages 16-24 spend more than three hours a day on social media, this coalition of partners in addition to trusted voices in the form of digital content creators and influencers will be integral to the initiative’s success, ensuring messages resonate with young adults and reach them on the platforms where they spend much of their time.
“This campaign is a testament to the collaborative work being done across the industry to use our platforms to do our part,” said Brennan Mullin VP, Devices & Services Partnerships, Americas at Google. “At a time when it couldn’t be more needed, we are proud to partner with the Ad Council to address the opioid epidemic and to raise awareness on this important topic.”
“We applaud the Ad Council’s effort to help address the fentanyl crisis holistically and we're proud to partner with them on this campaign,” said Lindsay Elin, VP of External Affairs, Meta Platforms, Inc. “Raising awareness about the dangers of fentanyl requires working across our entire industry so we’re grateful for the chance to do our part by helping the Ad Council amplify this important campaign.”
“As the opioid epidemic has surged during the pandemic, we have worked tirelessly to eradicate drug dealers from Snapchat, while partnering closely with parents, expert organizations, and law enforcement to better understand how we can fight this national crisis. It became clear that an industry-wide approach was needed to help educate youth and families about the deadly risks associated with counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl,” said Jennifer Stout, VP of Global Public Policy at Snap, Inc. “We’re grateful to be collaborating with the Ad Council, Google, Meta and additional partners on this unprecedented public awareness campaign to help Americans recognize the dangers of fentanyl and how to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
Understanding that some communities of color are experiencing sharp increases in drug overdoses, the Ad Council is committed to help reach Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) who are currently experiencing heightened levels of drug use disorders. As the overdose crisis continues, its reach is expanding to all kinds of American communities, rural, suburban and urban alike. Similar to other public health threats such as COVID-19, drug overdose is also disproportionately impacting BIPOC communities. While the highest absolute numbers of overdose deaths occurred in non-Hispanic white Americans, in 2020, overall drug overdose death rates were highest among non-Hispanic American Indian/ Alaska Native individuals (41.9 per 100,000), followed by non-Hispanic Black individuals (35.4 per 100,000), non-Hispanic white individuals (32.8 per 100,000), Hispanics (17.6) and non-Hispanic Asian/Other Pacific Islander (5.5) populations. From 2015-2020, drug overdose deaths rates increased dramatically among non-Hispanic Black American (190%) and non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native (98%) populations compared to overdose death rates among non-Hispanic white people (55%).  Additionally, certain communities of color experience reduced access to quality healthcare and, in some regions, also have reduced access to life-saving drugs like naloxone (e.g., Narcan, Evzio). (PMID: 28160887; PMID: 34058540).
Future work will help individuals who are experiencing drug use disorders to navigate recovery resources and access treatment options.
Launching in the summer of 2022, the initiative designed to reach teens and young adults in partnership with Google, Meta and Snap is being developed pro bono by creative agency partner, JOAN. In the year ahead, Meta’s Creative Shop will build on the fentanyl awareness effort with a campaign focused on informing parents and caregivers about the dangers of fentanyl. The subsequent effort involving public health organizations, aimed at adults facing substance use disorders, is currently in the research phase. Both initiatives will feature a suite of PSAs in addition to platform-specific activations and robust ground game components such as faith-based programs, trusted messenger strategies, employer engagement and open-source toolkits. These components are designed to also equip other organizations and nonprofits, enabling them to leverage the Ad Council’s research and content to bring important messaging to their communities.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts -- United States. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm
2. According to research by Morning Consult commissioned by Snap Inc. in July 2021. Available at: link
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