Lucy Butka
Digital Copywriter at Energy BBDO
Greater Chicago Area, United States
TitlePrescribed to Death
Agency
Campaign Prescribed to Death
Advertiser National Safety Council
Brand National Safety Council
PostedApril 2018
Business Sector Public Safety, Health & Hygiene
Story To humanise the opioid crisis, the National Safety Council engraved tiny pills with the faces of the 22,000 people who die every year from overdoses. The resulting installation, “Prescribed to Death”, told stories on an individual level. At the Chicago memorial a new pill was carved every 24 minutes, to dramatise how often a person dies of a prescription opioid overdose. In parallel, "Warn Me" labels — to prompt conversation with doctors — were provided free of charge, along with safe pill disposal envelopes, to all who visited the memorial or inquired through the website.

To literally put a human face on the opioid crisis, the National Safety Council engraved the faces of the 22,000 people who die each year from prescription opioid overdoses onto the same number of pills. They formed a powerful installation, a memorial that told stories on an individual level and painted a picture of the lives lost. In addition, since one out of three prescription opioid users don’t even know their medication includes an opioid, a simple insurance card sticker was created to prompt conversation with medical professionals.
Philosophy Prescription opioids kill over 22,000 Americans each year, yet they rarely make the news. Media coverage of the opioid epidemic was all about heroin and fentanyl, not prescriptions. The deaths of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince gave prescriptions a blip of national attention, but it never lasted. National Safety Council’s mission is to eradicate preventable deaths, and they recognized that this was a national killer no one was talking about. Prescription opioids were one of the most pressing barriers to attaining the sustainable development goal of good health and well being for Americans. When NSC fielded a survey on drug abuse in the US, they realized how many Americans were at risk – prescription opioids were in 3 out of 5 homes in America. The NSC needed to break through the noise on illegal street opioids with something that would get Americans to take the threat in their own home seriously. We needed something emotional that would force Americans to confront their own vulnerability to addiction and motivate them to protect themselves from risk of overdosing.
Problem To humanize the crisis, NSC turned data into faces—engraving the faces of the 22,000 moms, dads, sons, and daughters that die each year from prescription opioid overdoses onto 22,000 pills. These pills formed a powerful installation, a memorial that told stories on an individual level, painted a picture of the lives lost, and put a face to the problem. The memorial didn’t stop with one location, it was built to travel. And it’s still on the move, visiting the cities that are the hardest hit by the opioid crisis. After bringing people face-to-face with the problem, NSC gave them a way to take action starting with another statistic: 1 out of 3 prescription opioid users don’t even know their medication includes an opioid. A simple insurance card sticker prompted conversation with medical professionals, just one small step toward preventing another 22,000 deaths.
Result Prescribed to Death sparked a national conversation about the prescription opioid problem in the US. The campaign garnered 2,455,606,809+ earned impressions to date, 12,990,351+ video views and a 2,017% increase in shared Facebook impressions. Through earned PR alone, 15 cities hardest hit by the crisis heard about the memorial and asked to host it. The White House was so moved that they brought it to Washington DC, hosting it on the National Mall. In a divisive political climate, the campaign united both parties, with prominent leaders of both visiting the memorial. The campaign established NSC as a leader in the fight against prescription opioid overdoses. Conversation about NSC grew by 891% on the days of the memorial and 3663% when the DC memorial was announced. Most importantly, the campaign inspired a new behavior. With 1,021,000+ Warn Me Labels distributed, Prescribed To Death sparked potentially life-saving conversations with medical professionals nationwide.
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