New Opioid PSAs

Local professionals say new campaign to curb use of opioids won’t work

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Remember the public service announcements (PSAs) from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in the 1980s depicting an egg in a hot pan to show “your brain on drugs” as it fried?

New PSAs released by Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to address the opioid crisis, the Truth Initiative and the Ad Council, also discuss drug abuse in a dramatic fashion. Based on true stories, they show people purposefully hurting themselves to obtain more prescription pain medication. For example, smashing a hand with a hammer or driving a car into a dumpster.

Though the spots warn “opioid addiction can happen after just five days,” area experts contest the effectiveness of the new PSAs, which debuted on TV and social media in June.

“The people who need to hear it aren’t necessarily the ones watching,” said Peter Navratil , a licensed clinical social worker who practices at Tree of Hope Counseling in Rochester.

While Navratil does think that the new PSAs raise awareness, he’s not sure that the message they contain clearly connects the dots between how some people start taking opioids, as prescription medication after surgery, which eventually leads to medicating for feelings of depression and hopelessness. And, as the PSAs purport, inflicting significant self-harm to obtain more medication.

“For most people caught up in this, their compassion toward themselves has disappeared,” Navratil said. “They’re self-loathing. They’re disgusted with themselves. They’re not paying attention to themselves and they won’t see, ‘This is very harmful; I shouldn’t do this.’ PSAs only make sense for us in the thinking world. If you’re in the midst of addiction, this stuff doesn’t grab you. It’s an attempt, but I don’t know how to measure how successful they are.”

Navratil wants more attention on different options for pain management. Patients have the right to ask for other, non-addictive means to manage pain than opioid medication when they’re injured or about to undergo surgery.

While the PSAs do grab attention, Nancy McQueen Mooney, licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in Brighton, isn’t sure the message is effective.

“A lot of times, these are written by people who don’t have chemical abuse in their background,” she said.

Mooney also has a master’s in education and counsels in the Brighton School District. “Addicts will go to any end to get what they want,” she added. “Their love affair is with a drug. They won’t care what they have to do to get it.”

She thinks that people who aren’t addicted to drugs may not readily identify with the extreme examples of self-harm depicted in the videos.

Mooney wants more parents to begin the dialogue about drug abuse sooner, so children understand that taking illicit drugs or abusing prescription drugs leads to damaged health and possible death. Enlisting the help of an objective third party, such as another trusted adult the child respects, can also help influence behavior.