Naloxone Awareness Campaign

When Governor Mills took office in 2019, one of her first actions was to hire a Director of Opioid Response and to direct him to create a Naloxone Steering Committee. The Committee has many charges, but one is to develop a public awareness campaign to increase awareness for and use of Naloxone as a lifesaving, miracle drug to treat opioid overdoses. Ethos was asked by our SAMHS client to undertake that assignment and to ensure that it was up and running within a very short time period.

Narrowing the Focus

We conducted an internal assessment with members of the Naloxone Steering Committee, regional public health professionals and those organizations and people who work with illegal drug users. Additional research included speaking with healthcare providers who treat drug users and University of Maine researchers who gather data on overdose drug deaths. This research showed that drug users were aware of Naloxone and frequently used it on their peers. We also learned that for many people, the overdose was totally unintentional. For senior citizens, the chronically ill, and those suffering from confusion the overdose was caused by accidentally taking more than prescribed. The research helped us narrow the focus to these target audiences: people who use illegal drugs, friends and family members of people who use illegal drugs, and anyone who is prescribed an opioid for any use.

Messages and outreach to illegal drug users and their friends and family focused on making sure Naloxone was always on hand so an overdose death could be prevented. Illegal drug users were encouraged to “have the back” of someone in their group. For family members the message was similar – if your loved one is using-have Naloxone on hand. To the general public and anyone prescribed Naloxone, we framed Naloxone as something to use in case of emergency. Our goal was to normalize having Naloxone on hand, making it seem similar to having a fire extinguisher or using a life preserver. Our campaign efforts were unified with the common call-to-action “have it on hand” used as a URL, a hash tag, and in all communications.

Awareness Achieved

Interventions included the development of a website and mass distribution of tool kits containing posters, “Naloxone Available Here” static clings and patient information, to prescribers, dispensers, and all public health outlets. We developed videos for broadcast and digital outreach and ran transit advertising on public buses in urban areas to ensure that our messages were reaching all facets of the community. The messaging was simple. “Most overdose deaths are preventable. Be Prepared. Have Naloxone on hand.” A recent evaluation of the campaign showed that 81% of the population is now aware of Naloxone, and 83% report it would be used to prevent an overdose.