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The campaign that encouraged people who use drugs to become lifesavers


By John McCarthy | Opinion editor

June 21, 2023 | 5 min read

The campaign won in the Media category at The Drum Awards for Marketing EMEA 2023.


How clever media urged people who use drugs to carry a life-saving shot

The ’Hidden Lifesavers’ campaign increased circulation of naloxone kits directly to people who use drugs, getting the life-saving treatment directly to the community most in need.

The Brief

Pharma giant Ethypharm is committed to supporting a marginalized group in society: people who use drugs (PWUD). Its life-saving treatment, naloxone, can reverse opioid overdoses. Despite being free and legally accessible to almost anyone, naloxone’s effectiveness relies on timely administration. Unfortunately, distribution strategies primarily target emergency services and first responders, overlooking a crucial truth: its is those who are present during an overdose, so fellow drug users, who are best positioned to carry naloxone.

The Idea

Through conversations with drug users who carried naloxone, their experiences became the driving force behind the campaign, serving as a call to action. Leveraging carefully selected media placements, the ’Hidden Lifesavers’ campaign successfully increased the circulation of naloxone kits directly to the community most in need.

As a result, naloxone demand surged by 19%, raising the proportion of PWUD who carry naloxone to 25%, compared to an estimated 22% without the campaign. This translates to approximately one in four opioid users having access to a naloxone kit. The ’Hidden Lifesavers’ campaign distributed an additional 6,331 naloxone kits, potentially saving many lives.

Creating advertising that not only challenges social stigma but also has the potential to save lives is a rare privilege. Through strategic media utilization, the ’Hidden Lifesavers’ campaign achieved its goals.

Naloxone, when administered promptly, has a profound impact in reversing opioid overdoses and preventing fatalities. Despite an increasing provision of naloxone kits from 2018 to 2020 (CAGR 8.74%), opioid-related deaths continued to rise.

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The Results

In 2020, approximately 3,500 individuals in the UK lost their lives to opioid overdose. However, 2021 initially showed a decrease compared to the previous three years, on track to finish 16% below the target.

The ’Hidden Lifesavers’ campaign defied the odds, achieving significant outcomes despite operating with a limited budget.

This campaign won at The Drum Awards for Marketing EMEA 2023. Find out more about The Drum’s Global Awards program or head to our case studies hub to read more award-winning stories.

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