Hope, Help & Healing: Using Media to Connect People with Help for Addiction - Part 1 of 2

[Steve Pasierb is President and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. This is Part 1 of a 2-part post. -Ed.]
A research-based communications exploratory by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) produced a set of 10 “lessons learned” that can be applicable to all working to communicate with the public on addiction treatment. It also became the foundation of the Partnership’s ongoing collaboration with the Treatment Research Institute (TRI), which has produced a range of innovative, useful new intervention tools like Time To Act.
Lesson 1: Public attitudes are indeed barriers to help-seeking.
Our work with RWJF identified three public attitudes that must be counteracted:

  • Denial and/or lack of understanding of the nature of addiction as a chronic, but treatable, illness calling for early and urgent action — rather than a social behavior or moral issue.
  • A sense of powerlessness about intervening effectively to get a loved one started on a path to recovery. 
  • A perception of the problem as being hopeless due to lack of information about professional help options and how to access them in the community.

Lesson 2: Promoting intervention by family and friends is the top priority.
Research identified audience segments and messages that move them to action. In general:

  • Address loved ones, family members, as well as individuals who are sick and engage them in the treatment process and recovery.
  • Reduce attitudinal barriers to seeking of information and provide opportunities to seek information anonymously, like via websites.
  • Urge early intervention just as for any other serious illness.

Lesson 3: Multiple messages are needed.
No single concept is effective for all audiences. In order to provide education about addiction as a health problem, a comprehensive set of messages is needed to address different aspects of the problem. People generally are also able to see each message as relevant for a variety of addictive drugs, including alcohol, even when only one drug is shown in a PSA, as part of a web site feature or described in a personal testimonial story in a newspaper. So a message about the value of meth treatment can be productive for all treatment.
Lesson 4: Varied media channels are needed.
In today’s fragmented media environment, messages across a variety of channels must be used to achieve impact. These can include social media like Facebook and Twitter; public service messages in television, print, radio and outdoor; public relations to share first-person stories of recovery in the press; a dedicated web site to build a community of support and offer resources; and, a phone line for referral to treatment.
For instance, a television PSA prompted one woman in Cincinnati to seek out treatment for her husband's serious heroin addiction; she called the toll-free number at 2:30 a.m., and her husband entered treatment the next morning. "Over the past year, we have realized significant increases in the number of calls we receive from individuals seeking help for themselves or someone they love," said Nan Franks Richardson, CEO, Alcoholism Council of the Cincinnati Area. "The real strength of this campaign is that it has raised awareness that alcoholism and drug addiction is treatable and that there is help right here in Cincinnati.”
Lesson 5: Referrals should be to local help, wherever possible.
For people moved to action by a campaign, it is ideal to have the dedicated help resource be identified as located within the community and co-signed by a local organization. This helps engage an array of local treatment leadership and providers as partners in planning and executing a campaign and to set up and vet adequate referral links to help for those motivated by the campaign.
Go to Part 2 of Using Media to Connect People with Help for Addiction here.

Updated: July 09 2009