“It kind of has a horror movie feel to it,” said one government official about the new opioid public service announcements.
Officials in Arizona are taking inspiration from scary movies in an attempt to keep kids and teens from experimenting with opioids, despite controversy and conflicting reports over whether scare tactics actually work to deter teens from using drugs.
Two 30-second public service announcements aim to highlight the dangers of opioids by showing a teen trapped in a pill, with the message “Opioids: Getting in is easier than getting out.” One ad features a boy, while the other features a girl. At the end of the videos, a lifeless hand is shown next to pill bottles.
Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said the images are intentionally frightening.
“It kind of has a horror movie feel to it,” she told Arizona Central. “This is part of the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act. They (the Arizona Legislature) appropriated a little over $400,000 for us to develop this educational campaign and it had to be graphic, and it had to show the law enforcement consequences of opioids.”
The campaign is meant to target kids ages 12-17 and will appear on websites that people of those ages use often, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify and Pandora.
In addition to the videos, the campaign features still images that include a teen drowning in pills, and another behind bars, which turn out to be hypodermic needles. They all link to the state’s “Something Better” website, which provides information on the dangers of drug abuse.
Christ said that focus groups showed the movie-style ads caught teens’ attention while delivering the message.
“There is a scary component of it. People don’t realize how dangerous and how addictive these medications are,” she said.
However, Graeme Fox, who does community outreach for a needle-exchange program run by volunteers in Maricopa County, said the images and videos might not be as effective as lawmakers are hoping.
“It could be a good thing but scare tactics aren’t necessarily the way to educate youths,” Fox said. “The state may think it’s a good thing but there are studies that show after a certain amount of time, scare tactics aren’t effective.”
The campaign will run through June.
Results from the most recent Monitoring the Future Survey, which interviews 8th, 10th and 12th grade students about their substance use, found that rates of opioid use are actually falling among teens, reaching their lowest levels to date.
“With illicit opioid use at generally the lowest in the history of the survey, it is possible that being in high school offers a protective effect against opioid misuse and addiction,” said Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We will be focusing much of our new prevention research on the period of time when teens transition out of school into the adult world and become exposed to the dangerous use of these drugs.”