A new report exploring the best practices for communicating about opioids in the Appalachian Region has been released by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).
From January to June 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and ORAU conducted interviews with subject matter experts from a dozen states and 12 in-person focus groups in four communities – including three conducted in the UNITE service region.
These discussions and focus groups uncovered information about the regional differences in how opioids are impacting communities, lessons learned from previous communication campaigns, and unique geographic, economic, and socio-economic factors that influence how messages are perceived.
Both the expert interviews and community focus groups yielded similar findings in terms of the opioid-prevention messages most needed in the region, the key target audiences for these messages, and the ways in which information should be disseminated for maximum impact. The strongest findings of the research included:
- The need for messages to combat the stigma of addiction (including messages about addiction being a chronic disease that is treatable and not a “moral failure.”)
- The need for prevention messages aimed at youth that promote and normalize not using drugs.
- The need for messages to be conveyed through story-telling, particularly the stories of community members who have been in long-term recovery from opioid addiction.
Other research findings included that the terms “prescription pain meds” or “prescription pain pills” are better received than the term “opioids.” If using the term opioids, it should be defined and include examples of common brand-names of opioid medications.
When communicating about opioid misuse, messages containing calls-to-action and solutions have a better impact, and vivid but clear language is preferred over “beating around the bush.” For example, stating that someone “died” as opposed to “passed” is a better choice.
In addition, local organizations are best positioned to combat the opioid crisis as they can tailor the solution to the individual community needs, which are often different from other communities, even within the same state.
This research conducted by the ORAU team adds to the very limited body of knowledge about health communication in Appalachia and serves as a guide to help local organizations tackle the epidemic using messages and tactics that will be seen and understood by communities in Appalachia in the hopes of saving as many lives as possible.