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Purpose and principles on addressing the opioid crisis

The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis that is devastating our communities. Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. About 2.5 million young adults aged 18 to 25 have misused opioids in the past year, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Truth Initiative®, as one of the largest youth-focused public health education organizations, decided that it can’t stand on the sidelines.

On June 7, 2018, after nearly a year of formative work, Truth Initiative is launching a public education truth® prevention campaign, The Truth About Opioids, designed to help young people understand the dangers of opioid misuse and addiction and the role they can play in creating change. Truth Initiative feels uniquely qualified to make an impact given the recognition and credibility of the truth brand and our outstanding record of success in tobacco prevention by shifting knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and, ultimately, behavior. 

As we and our partners embark on this work, we believe it is important to outline the facts, rationale and principles guiding our new effort.


  • Every day, more than 115 Americans die from an opioid-related overdose. This number is predicted to rise. 
  • In 2016, 2.5 million young adults reported misusing an opioid.
  • Per capita, America consumes more prescription opioids than any other nation in the world. 
  • Young Americans are particularly vulnerable to misunderstanding the risks associated with opioid misuse, addiction and the dangerous spiral down from prescription to illicit use.
  • Seventy-four percent of opioid users are current or former tobacco users.
  • While rescue, treatment and recovery are urgent needs for treating the epidemic, we must stop filling the funnel with “replacement users,” and that begins with youth and young adult prevention.


  • Truth Initiative, through truth, offers an unmatched expertise and record of success in public education programs targeted to youth and young adults. It has been proven that truth has prevented more than 1 million youth and young adults from smoking over the life of the campaign.
  • In our nearly 20 years of work in this field, we have engaged youth and young adults in conversations about the risks of addiction and enlisted them to not only modify their own behavior, but to influence the cultural norms among peers within their social communities. truth engages more than 2.3 million youth through social media platforms across the nation.
  • The Master Settlement Agreement, which created our organization, authorizes us to develop and disseminate “advertising and education programs to counter the use by youth of substances that are unlawful for use or purchase by youth.” While our efforts have exclusively focused on tobacco up until this point, we believe the time is now to expand our focus and address this immediate crisis.     
  • Evidence indicates that exposure to nicotine — a highly addictive substance — primes the adolescent brain to be sensitive to other addictive substances. Addressing youth and young adult opioid addiction and misuse is a natural extension of our anti-tobacco work.
  • Approximately 77 percent of U.S. youth and young adults under age 25 recognize the truth brand. Surveys of our target audience reveal that the majority of youth and young adults agree that truth should engage in educating the public about opioids. More than half of our target audience believe we already engage in this work.


  • Given the toll of the national opioid crisis, its adjacency to our existing work and the authority within the Master Settlement Agreement, we believe we are uniquely positioned to educate youth and young adults about the risks of opioid addiction and misuse.
  • The reasons for this crisis are complex. It is the result of pharmaceutical industry marketing, physician guidelines and prescribing practices, the regulatory environment, law enforcement, gaps in consumer knowledge, access to addiction treatment and popular culture influences. We cannot tackle all of it. But, we believe we can meaningfully contribute to the solution by influencing young people’s knowledge, attitudes and beliefs around the issue and, ultimately, impacting their behavior. This is the model that has proven successful for truth.
  • Effective solutions to the national opioid crisis require an outcomes-focused, non-ideological process. Consistent with our work in tobacco use prevention, our efforts will be grounded in rigorous scientific findings.
  • While we are expanding our focus to youth and young adult opioid prevention, our primary focus and resource allocation remains with our mission to achieve a culture where youth and young adults reject tobacco. 
  • We recognize that reducing the toll of the opioid crisis requires a comprehensive, multi-sector effort beyond the reach of public education initiatives. Our contribution to the solution will focus on what we do best — creating, disseminating and evaluating youth- and young adult-focused education and prevention messages. We understand this effort is just one component of an effective strategy to solve the overall opioid crisis facing our nation’s entire population.
  • To fully engage and serve our audience, we will offer them pathways for activation to support their peers in avoiding opioid use and addiction, as well as direction to resources for information, support and treatment.
  • To help ensure our messages are accurate and effective, we are partnering with private, nonprofit and public organizations that have expertise in addiction and substance abuse.

Our years of experience in tobacco prevention public education efforts gives us the platform to engage youth in this important national conversation.

To reach youth and young adults, this public education campaign is being done in partnership with other organizations, including the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Ad Council, private partners including Amazon, Facebook, Google and YouTube, NBCUniversal, Turner, Vice and experts in the treatment of opioid addiction.  

We welcome questions, comments and potential partners for this new effort.