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Opioids: Know the Rx Toolkit

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In April 2017 Cuyahoga County launched an extensive, collaborative long-term public awareness campaign whose purpose is to educate residents about the potential dangers of opioid prescriptions.

How You Can Launch Your Own Campaign:
  1. Form Taskforce
    a. This group should be relatively small, composed of marketing and communications professionals with strong ties to media and local community/government leaders.
    b. Healthcare communications professionals; Government communications professionals are good candidates.
  2. Secure URL.
    a. is hosted by and is locally focused. Use For example,;, etc…
  3. Build Media Consortium
    a. Approach media leaders with strong influence and network so they can bring other partners along
  4. Build community partnerships
    a. Activate community partnerships. Consider working with any organization in your community that has a platform they can use to help you spread the word. Groups such as, transit companies, hospitals, libraries, mayors and managers associations, faith-based organizations are all good partners to cultivate.
  5. Connect on social

How We Did It:

Cuyahoga County is in throes of an epidemic. In 2016 we lost over 550 people to drug overdoses (heroin, cocaine, fentanyl); In 2017 we are projected to lose almost 900 people.

This is a crisis that is hitting every demographic and every town in our county.

Cuyahoga County is also considered a national model for tackling this epidemic. In fact in 2016 our Attorney General’s Opioid Task Force won the US Attorney General’s highest award for its collaborative focus on ways to stem the upward trajectory of deaths.

In the summer of 2016 a group of marketing/communications professionals from Cuyahoga County, MetroHealth Systems, the prosecutor’s office, the Attorney General’s office, and the Medical Examiner’s office got together and formed an Opioid Marketing Task Force with a very narrow mission: we wanted to use our expertise to tackle the problem.

We noted as we got started that all of our community efforts were focused on the back-end of the issue – from treating addicts, supporting families, taking in the deceased. We were pretty sure that a marketing campaign (no matter how brilliant) wasn’t going to cut through to an addict. But we felt that we had a chance at something else – educating the public about just how dangerous opioid pill prescriptions can be. We know that 4 out of 5 heroin users started with opioid pill prescriptions. People know that Heroin is a problem but they aren’t making the connection to taking pain pills and the potential for addiction.

For more information on how the opioid prescription crisis got to be so bad in Ohio:

The team wrote an rfp and received responses from several local agencies. Doner Agency got the work and created the campaign. We separated the social media effort to another agency: Global Prairie. Once the platform was created; we began to present to community leaders and to the media.

Crucial to this effort was to know and reach out to key media companies and get their buy in. We were not just asking for them to run free ads. For this to work, we all agreed we needed a significant, ongoing editorial push as well as a phone bank the night that the major coverage launched.

The mix of edit and marketing is crucial as it gives the media a voice in addressing the concern. After all, the media is reporting on this issue day in and day out; they feel just as devastated as the rest of us. This campaign is something that they can DO to help make a difference.

We approached every single major broadcast stations, all local radio, our major print and online news source, outdoor advertising companies. NO ONE SAID NO.

Importantly, while some TV stations developed special sections, we were very clear that would develop and host the online resource center. Our url redirects to that section. It was important to say this upfront for two reasons – participating media needed to know that online traffic would end up going to We decided to work with because they already have significant traffic; because they have so much traffic and so much “authority” in terms of editorial coverage of the opioid crisis, we didn’t have to work hard to build a brand and worry about search engine optimization.

Here is a timeline of our efforts:

April 4
  • Joint press advisory sent to local, regional and national media.

April 5 – kick off
  • 1 p.m. press conference at Medical Examiner’s office 11001 Cedar Avenue
  • Media airs press conference coverage at 6/7/11 and pitch to April 6th full coverage push

April 6– full coverage begins
  • 4:30-7 a.m. news coverage on radio and television with push to early evening news coverage and IdeaStream (local NPR affiliate hosted) phone bank from 6 – 8 p.m.
  • 8 a.m. Bill Wills morning drive time on WTAM.
  • goes live with resource center and news package. All partner websites activate content.
  • Online coverage continues.
  • Coordinated social media push continues.
  • Billboards are activated.
  • Tape radio interview for air later in month (CBS)
  • 6-8 p.m. Live phone bank at IdeaStream with experts** taking calls. TV reporters front 6/7 live shots from this location.
  • 6-7 p.m. TV stations report live from IdeaStream phone bank location. Push to 9 a.m. Sound of Ideas.
  • 11 p.m. TV coverage and push to next day.

April 7
  • 9 a.m. Sound of Ideas WCPN (local radio talk show)
  • Afternoon and evening radio and TV coverage continues

April 9
  • Sunday Print edition of Plain Dealer highlights “Know the Risks” project

  • Additional print support from Cleveland Jewish News, Scene Weekly, community newspapers
  • Community-wide challenge issues by County Executive to double the number of pills dropped off throughout 2017 at area drug drop boxes

  • Ambient/Outdoor installations

**experts taking calls at the phone bank were sourced from our local ADAMHS board and from area hospitals.

Right Rail section can include links to KnowTheRX and other news as it is developed…