Cleveland tackles opioid epidemic with a huge pill bottle and PSA prevention campaign

The opioid epidemic is a huge and still growing problem in the US, which is why creative agency Doner and Cuyahoga County, Ohio have teamed up for campaign that features a coffin-sized pill bottle and a message of prevention.

Many may not realize that opioid and heroin addiction often starts with people using what they deem are safe painkillers, or opioids. So, a task force of communications professionals from local hospitals in the Cleveland area, Cuyahoga County, the US Attorney's Office and the Medical Examiner's Office wanted to further public awareness by expanding a PSA campaign that is showing how seemingly safe prescriptions are at the root of a growing epidemic.

“Know the Risks” is a message they are spreading in the county and hopefully nationally through partnerships with hospitals, events and digital.

The awareness campaign started with a 10-foot-tall prescription pill bottle, which was erected in downtown Cleveland’s public square to demonstrate how opioid addiction is impacting Americans from all walks of life. From there, Doner and what is being called the Cuyahoga County Opioid Marketing Task Force decided to expand the effort by introducing a video that shows the effects opioids have on families.

In the video, close-up somber scenes of flower, photo and candle memorials of those lost to the epidemic are interspersed with the facts of opioids, including that they kill more than 30,000 people in the US every year. As it progresses, it states that “opioids kill more than pain” as the shot pans out to show a large pill bottle next to the memorials, with a coffin-like pillow and mattress inside. On the bottle is a warning label that states “It started with a prescription. It ended with an addiction.” It ends by referring people to an informational website where they can get the facts about opioids and steps to get help.

The effort is part of a larger year-long campaign created to flip the narrative of anti-drug campaigns. By focusing on prevention rather than treatment, the ads are designed to shift perceptions of pill bottles from “safe” to something of potential risk. They also worked with photographer Dave Krovblit to create provocative print ads depicting a pill bottle as a grenade and a gun barrel.

In Cuyahoga County alone, there were more than 500 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016, by people from all walks of life, and the area is projected to see up to 850 overdose deaths before the end of the year. The PSA efforts hope to reverse the trend.

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Kyle O'Brien

I am a reporter for The Drum covering a wide array of topics but always trying to tell the best stories possible. I am a former west coaster from California and Portland, Oregon, now living in Pennsylvania — with time spent in NYC each week.

I also play saxophone professionally.

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