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Research Article Research Article

truth opioid education campaign increases knowledge, lowers stigma

A campaign led by Truth Initiative® to educate young people about opioid misuse increased knowledge of the fact that opioid dependence can happen in just five days, decreased stigma, and increased the likelihood to seek and share opioid-related information in young people, according to an evaluation of the campaign’s effectiveness published recently in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The findings show that the nationally recognized truth campaign can successfully be adapted to spread the word about opioid misuse, and that public education about opioids delivered at a national level could positively impact millions of young people.

The U.S. opioid epidemic is a serious public health crisis, with the highest rates of opioid misuse and dependence for young adults ages 18–25. Young Americans are especially vulnerable to misunderstanding the risks associated with opioid misuse, addiction, and the dangerous spiral down from prescription to illicit use. The Truth About Opioids is a mass media public education campaign designed by Truth Initiative to prevent opioid misuse and dependence among young adults. Truth Initiative began confronting this crisis in 2018 because of its record of success in tobacco prevention. The campaign builds on 20 years of lifesaving work that has helped drive down the youth smoking rate from 23% in 2000 to an all-time low of 2.3% in 2021 by preventing millions of young people from becoming smokers, including 2.5 million between 2015 and 2018 alone.

Campaign increases knowledge, lowers stigma

The campaign aired on TV and online platforms popular with young people between September 2019 and June 2020 with messages featuring the fact that “opioid dependence can happen in just five days,” and the call to action “Know the Truth, Spread the Truth.” Researchers surveyed 1,434 young adults 18-34 with varying levels of media exposure in Indiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina before and after the campaign aired.

They found that young adults who were aware of the campaign had significantly higher odds of agreeing with the statement that opioid dependence can happen in just five days compared to those with no awareness. Odds of opioid-related knowledge also appears to be dose-related: those with high campaign awareness had nearly 2.5x higher odds while those with low awareness had 1.5x higher odds of agreeing with the statement.

The campaign also succeeded in reducing opioid-related stigma in young people. Young adults who had high awareness of the campaign had 1.6 times greater odds of endorsing the destigmatizing attitude “someone like me could become dependent on prescription opioids” compared to those with no awareness.

Campaign drives young people to learn more, talk to peers about opioid addiction

Participants who were aware of the campaign were more likely to seek out information about the opioid epidemic and those with higher awareness had nearly double (1.9X) the odds of reporting likelihood of talking to a friend about the opioid epidemic compared to those with no campaign awareness. Those with higher campaign awareness had higher odds of seeking out information compared to those with lower awareness.

This type of campaign could potentially reach 54 million young adults and help increase knowledge and attitudes related to opioid misuse and dependence among 6 million young people, according to the study authors. “Given the devastating consequences of the opioid epidemic, now is the time to mount a comprehensive prevention effort to help reduce opioid misuse among young people,” the authors write.