Ad Council counteracts surge in overdoses with youth fentanyl awareness campaign

In 2021, overdose deaths increased by 15% over 2020, according to the CDC.

There were more than 107,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. last year. (Photo credit: Getty Images).
There were more than 107,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. last year. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Amid a surge in drug overdose deaths, the Ad Council partnered with Big Tech for a campaign focused on youth fentanyl awareness, the organization said last month. 

The initiative was announced days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were more than 107,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. last year, a 15% increase over 2020. More than 71,000 of those deaths were from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, according to The New York Times. The previous year, there were 58,000 such deaths. 

The youth overdose death rate also doubled between 2019 and 2020, largely driven by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The Ad Council initiative focused on youth fentanyl awareness was funded by Google, Meta and Snap and also included TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, Reddit and Vice Media, according to the nonprofit.

“This is really the first time that all of these major companies are coming together to address this issue in such a big way,” said Michelle Hillman, chief campaign development officer at Ad Council. “The trusted voices that come with digital content creators and influencers are really going to be integral to this initiative’s success. We know that this is where young adults are spending their time.”

The organization did not have specifics about the content, but Hillman said the group adapted what it learned from its COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

“Everything needs to be really grounded in research specificity, and all the creative work we do really needs to be platform specific,” Hillman said. “Using trusted voices with credible messages on TikTok might look different than it looks on Snapchat, than it looks on Google, than it looks on Meta.”

Creative agency Joan donated its time to develop the campaign, which the Ad Council planned to launch this summer. Meta’s creative shop also worked on a campaign aimed at informing parents and caregivers about the dangers of fentanyl, according to a press release. 

“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,” Lindsay Elin, VP of external affairs at Meta said in a statement. “Raising awareness about the dangers of fentanyl requires working across our entire industry so we’re grateful for the chance to do our part.”

In addition to the youth fentanyl campaign, the Ad Council also planned to work with public health organizations to address the larger overdose epidemic. That will include helping individuals with substance-use disorders find resources to start their recovery, Hillman said.

“It’s a critical issue, and we’re super-committed to making a difference for all of the different audiences that are being impacted,” Hillman said. 

The organization declined to share the campaign’s budget. 

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