Magazine article Addiction Professional

Awareness Campaign Tackles Treatment: A New Effort for the PDFA Appears to Drive Demand for Services

Magazine article Addiction Professional

Awareness Campaign Tackles Treatment: A New Effort for the PDFA Appears to Drive Demand for Services

Article excerpt

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) has long been associated with communicating the nation's most visible drug and alcohol abuse prevention messages through public service announcements. With the help of advertising agencies that provide their services on a pro bono basis, the partnership's work reached iconic status in the 1980s with a simple image of an egg frying and the accompanying tagline "This is your brain on drugs." This vivid depiction of drug abuse's physiologic effects resonated with a generation of young people and became part of the cultural lexicon, and its effectiveness provided the foothold for future antidrug PSAs.

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While duplicating the success of its famous 1980s ad could prove elusive, the PDFA is nonetheless trying to parlay its experience in communicating prevention messages to the addiction treatment field. Through a series of television commercials, radio spots, and newspaper and billboard ads, the PDFA wants to tell Americans with drug and alcohol addiction and their families that addiction is a disease like any other and that treatment should be sought. The Hope, Help & Healing campaign aspires to erase the stigma still associated in some circles with addiction.

The campaign was piloted in early 2005 in Houston and Cincinnati, and all indications are that requests for treatment information have increased in these communities, with a surge in phone calls to hotlines and visits to a dedicated Web site administered by the PDFA. Building on this success, the PDFA is now planning rollouts for other cities.

The Partnership embarked on this effort with the realization that there is a continuum between prevention and treatment, says Paul Costiglio, the PDFA's deputy director of public affairs. The endeavor encompassed several years of research and discussion with addiction treatment professionals, as well as the creative process with the advertising agencies. Five agencies worked with the PDFA to create the ads, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided financial support.

A synopsis of several of the eight television ads used in the campaign illustrates the diverse creative approaches that were used to emblazon the message that addiction is a disease, that it affects family members as well as the individual, and that help should be sought expeditiously:

* Arguably the most controversial pair of ads in the series addresses the disease concept head-on. In one of the ads, a woman approaching middle age states: "I'd rather have heart disease; that way you wouldn't look at me with shame. You and I could talk openly about my problem--there would be no stigma.... If I had heart disease, you would understand that I need treatment, not hate." A similar theme is repeated in the second ad by a young man with a pencil-thin mustache and dark hair reaching the nape of his neck: "It'd be better if I had cancer; then you wouldn't tell me what I'm going through is just a phase," he says. "You wouldn't see my condition as a lack of willpower but the disease that it truly is. There'd be walks, telethons, campaigns to raise funds to end it. If I had cancer, you'd understand I need treatment, not a lecture." Despite the controversial dialogue in these ads, campaign personnel say very few complaints from the public about the messages were logged in the two pilot cities.

* Another ad uses the message "Choose to help a loved one with a drug or alcohol problem; it could change everything." This ad uses word substitution to reflect the changing circumstances of someone who receives help: "Your daughter's wasted again; you ignore it/get help; soon she's arrested/promoted; you post bail/congratulate her; one day you get a call; it's bad news/good news; she's gone/expecting; you cry."

* An ad geared toward the person in need of help portrays a young man waking up in the operating room just as he is about to undergo surgery. …

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