Presented by The National Opioid Action Coalition (NOAC), founded by WPP, iHeartMedia and Fors Marsh Group, the panel “Fight or Flight” was a call to action for brands to get involved and determine what role they can play in the response to the opioid epidemic. The discussion, facilitated by nationally syndicated radio personality and author, Bobby Bones, brought together an eclectic mix of marketing leaders, the U.S. Surgeon General, and rock legend Nikki Sixx (Mötley Crüe), to share ideas and insights in an effort to mobilize a united front in the fight to end the stigma surrounding opioid misuse. The event kicked off an ongoing initiative by NOAC (www.noac.org) to drive action around #betheone for both individuals and companies to get involved.
Every 11 minutes, a person dies from an opioid overdose. One out of every four families has a loved one struggling with an opioid addiction. Opioid overdoses are the number one leading cause of death for the U.S. population under the age of 50. These are only a few of the frightening statistics pertaining to the current opioid epidemic sweeping the nation.
In what was perhaps one of the most moving seminars of the entire week, author and radio show host Bobby Bones discussed the opioid crisis with U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Jerome Adams; president of the U.S. Chamber Foundation and vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Carolyn Cawley; musician and songwriter, Nikki Sixx; co-founder and co-chair of Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic (S.A.F.E.), Mary Winnefeld; and senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Discovery Education, Lori McFarling.
Although the five speakers came from very different fields, what united them were their personal connections to opioids, such as losing loved ones to overdoses or battling addiction themselves. Before diving into what brands should be doing to help tackle this national crisis, the panelists attempted to explain why opioid addiction is such a difficult problem to solve. According to Winnefeld, who lost her son to an opioid overdose, it all points back to a lack of knowledge about the epidemic and mental health.
“As a society, we don’t understand substance abuse disorder, we don’t understand mental health,” Winnefeld said. “[Opioid addiction] needs to be treated the same way we treat an illness such as cancer. It’s a lifelong chronic disease.”
To bolster this idea, McFarling reminded the audience that no parent ever thinks an opioid addiction will kill their child and that no child ever aspires to be an addict. This means that addiction to opioids often stems from other scenarios such as a doctor’s prescription or a challenging life event.
In Adams’ opinion, the two main issues preventing the public from stopping the epidemic are stigma and ignorance, meaning that the two corresponding solutions are normalization and education. As a starting point, Adams referenced the impressionable nature of kids to highlight the power brands have over how young people perceive opioids. Cawley strongly agreed with this idea and when asked what brands risk by not taking action, her answer was simple: a lot.
“From a brand and reputation standpoint, it’s a missed opportunity to show your employees and customers and vendors that you’re present and active in this issue that’s affecting everyone,” Cawley said. “Each of us in our organization lives in this ecosystem of smaller businesses. There’s a lot at stake here and business has a really unique role to play.”
In terms of what actions brands should take, Cawley urged managers to begin getting comfortable talking to their employees about opioids and addiction, while Winnefeld said updating employee assistance programs is also a good place to start.
Regardless of the tactics brands decide to use, what’s most important is facilitating a discussion about the epidemic. Whether that means reaching out to community organizations, holding educational sessions about the topic for employees or simply doing research, no action is too small in this national fight.