The opioid epidemic is national news, but the majority of the fight is in local communities hit hard by the addiction. For the team behind Narcan, a drug that treats opioid overdose, local communities are where they focus outreach.
Narcan was introduced in 2015 as a brand name, nasal spray version of the generic naloxone, which is typically an injectable drug. In essence, Narcan reverses an opioid overdose.
Thom Duddy, executive director of communications at Adapt Pharma, the company that makes Narcan, says his team focuses its comms efforts on earned media and media relations, with very little direct-to-consumer PR or marketing efforts.
“Using earned media and a media strategy is unconventional for a pharmaceutical company, but we’re in the middle of an epidemic and we have a proven drug that helps reverse an opioid overdose,” Duddy explains. “We spend a lot of time with the media generating awareness of naloxone and Narcan and explaining that not all naloxone is the same.”
Changing the narrative
Some local communities are catching on. A Massachusetts sheriff started the nonprofit Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, which works to put addicts in recovery programs and equip residents with Narcan. New Hampshire made Narcan available at pharmacies to anyone and saw overdose deaths plummet, Duddy notes.
Educating people about Narcan goes hand in hand with education about the opioid epidemic. Duddy says there are plenty of misconceptions about opioids that need to be corrected. The first hurdle is eliminating the stigma around opioid use by showing everyday people can be addicted to opioids.
Heroin makes up a large share of drug overdose deaths, more than 15,000 in 2016, while fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, was involved in more than 20,000 deaths that year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Adapt Pharma raises awareness about opioid use through its media relations and partnerships. The company also has a series of videos from people affected by opioids on Narcan’s patient website.
“The strategy is showing everyday people such as you and I,” Duddy says. “We’re not even talking about addiction, we’re talking about the potential of overdosing from illicit agents or an opioid prescription. It touches everyone, and it does not discriminate. We try to take the stigma out of this.”
Other audiences Duddy’s team targets are doctors, pharmacists, and those who treat substance abuse disorder. The company encourages them to have conversations with their patients who are prescribed opioids about the risks of addiction and overdose, as well as about naloxone, which could potentially save their lives. Adapt Pharma also encourages doctors and pharmacists to prescribe Narcan when prescribing an opioid.
Duddy emphasizes the importance of conversations when someone is getting an opioid for pain. Many don’t know the risks of these drugs and assume they are completely safe because they come from their doctor.
“Most people don’t know what an opioid is,” he notes. “They know what heroin and illicit opioids are, but they don’t know the hydrocodone that might be in their medicine cabinet is an opioid. We need to talk about what opioids are, how you can potentially overdose, and who you can potentially save someone with naloxone.”