In February 2009, the Office of San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price received an invitation from the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration to partner in a newly-formed multi-agency law enforcement task force created to address issues related to the abuse of the brand name prescription drug, Oxycontin. “Oxy” costs between $50 and $80 per 80 milligram pill, with some San Diego addicts reporting a $750 a week habit. Addict informants reported violent, painful withdrawal symptoms and to avoid the pain, addicts admitted to robbing and stealing in order to pay for a constant supply. National studies showed parents to be unaware of the severity of prescription drug abuse and that youth tended to make up their minds during formative years about drug use and abuse. Those “on the fence” in pre-teen and teen years could be reached, but parental education was essential and thus became the principle target of the media/ education activities.
What came to be known as the Oxy Task Force of San Diego County, sought to address the problem on multiple fronts: law enforcement, health, government policy, and education. The Oxy Task Force directed the development of a comprehensive media and branding campaign which was intended to increase community awareness about the emerging problem of Oxy abuse in San Diego County and draw key stakeholder groups into the taskforce to expand the availability of prevention information and treatment services. The full-scale campaign included locally-produced public service announcements (TV) and campaign posters featuring San Diego middle-class teens (the constituencies affected) was aimed at parents. Along with traditional media communications streams, it was determined that social media integration was essential to target teens and young adults as well as their parents.
The Task Force aimed to dissolve the misinformation about illicit vs. prescription drugs by calling the campaign “Oxy Abuse Kills.” The slogan appeared on letterhead, posters, and as the final words on the screen of the PSAs. The campaign also included the development of an organizational logo for unified branding between various agencies, social media including Facebook and Twitter pages, and collateral materials including a tri-fold brochure. Furthermore, a campaign media launch press conference was planned, along with a call-to-action, a first of its kind, jointly sponsored by the County of San Diego and the Drug Enforcement Administration – a prescription drug Take Back Day. Additionally, multiple follow-up community events were planned beginning with an Oxy Task Force Policy & Legislative Summit to brainstorm legislative approaches to address the issue. Dozens of community educational events were planned for parents, students, educators and elected officials, law enforcement personnel, and medical professionals.
The campaign launch on October 19, 2009, was a great success. It received coverage by every major print, online, TV, and wire services in the county. Significant media attention lead to tremendous community involvement with both of the subsequent Take Back Days, netting 321.7 lbs and 2,558.5 lbs of prescription drugs respectively. In November of 2009, the Oxy Task Force convened a Policy & Legislative Summit of local, state and federal elected officials to brainstorm policy approaches to reducing access to Oxycontin, promoting community education and increasing the availability of drug-specific treatment. Based on the results of that event, a policy was passed by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, with the assistance of the Sheriff’s Department, to permanently place prescription drug drop-boxes in sheriff substations throughout the county. By all accounts, the Oxy Task Force’s media campaign was a success as demonstrated in the Oxy Task Force of San Diego County 2009 annual report, the 2010 Drug Take Back Day Program, and media matrix of key stories.
The campaign won the 2010 Public Relations Society of America San Diego Chapter’s Silver Edward L. Bernays Award of Excellence in Public Service, five regional Emmy Awards in 2010 from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Pacific Southwest Chapter, and the San Diego Prevention Coalition’s 2010 Drug Prevention Program of the Year from the San Diego Red Ribbon Week Annual Luncheon.