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White House launches multimillion dollar ad campaign to combat opioid addiction

The Trump administration on Thursday announced a new, multimillion dollar public awareness advertisement campaign aimed at curbing opioid addiction among young people.

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Maegan Vazquez (CNN)
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Trump administration on Thursday announced a new, multimillion dollar public awareness advertisement campaign aimed at curbing opioid addiction among young people.

The first four ads of the campaign are all based on true stories illustrating the extreme lengths young adults have gone to get a hold of Oxycodone and Vicodin -- from smashing their hand or arm, to wrecking their car or breaking their back.

"We hope these ads will spark conversation to educate teens and young adults to talk to their doctors about alternatives to opioids; that pain management may not always mean extended pain medication use; safe disposal practices for leftover, unused prescription; and also, to arm them with specific yet very simple knowledge about opioids," White House counselor and opioids czar Kellyanne Conway told reporters following the announcement.

The opioid crisis kills an average of 116 Americans every day and has been one of President Donald Trump's top priorities since taking office. In his first year as President, Trump established a commission to study potential federal remedies to the epidemic. He also declared the crisis a national health emergency last fall. In addition, first lady Melania Trump has folded opioid abuse into her "Be Best" initiative.

The White House has run similar anti-drug media campaigns through the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the past with mixed success. The first was former first lady Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign in the early 1980s, introduced at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, and more recent campaigns include "Above the Influence."

The 30-second ads were produced in partnership with the Truth Initiative, the Ad Council, and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy are expected to air on television and digital platforms. The ad funding was mostly funded by private partners, including Facebook, Google, YouTube, NBC Universal, Amazon, VICE, and Turner, CNN's parent company.

"All of the media that we're securing, which will be significant, has been donated by all of our media and tech partners," Lisa Sherman, the President and CEO of the Ad Council, told reporters on a call Thursday. The Ad Council has been behind memorable public service announcements like the Just Say No campaign, Smokey the Bear and Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk.

Sherman added that she expects the ad campaign to "see $30 million and then some" and that ONDCP has funded "a very small amount of money to support some of the other hard costs of the campaign."

ONDCP Deputy Director Jim Carroll said on the call that "very few government dollars had to be spent on this" but did not have the specific amount used for the campaign on hand. He also noted that the campaign has not needed the $10 million appropriated in the last omnibus bill.

Truth Initiative President and CEO Robin Koval said that they "tested over 150 different message possibilities," focusing on whether the ads would decrease intentions of misuse, increase risk perceptions, are shareable, and make you want to learn more.

The Truth Initiative is mostly known for its anti-tobacco campaign. But in an Instagram image posted Thursday, the organization said it would also take on the issue of opioid addiction.

"We've spent years fighting to bring the tobacco epidemic out of the shadows. ... Now, there's a new crisis that needs our attention. Every 15 minutes, someone in America dies from an opioid overdose. Opioid painkillers are killing us, and it's time to talk about it. Let's face the opioid epidemic together," the post says.

The White House said the first four ads are just the start of a larger awareness campaign. The first four videos target 18-to-24-year olds, and future ads will target individuals aged 15 to 34.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement regarding the campaign that "no one individual has done more to raise awareness of our country's opioid crisis than President Trump."

"Raising awareness is a key piece of defeating the threat of opioid addiction, which too many Americans still do not fully understand. These ads are a targeted effort to promote awareness, especially among our youth, about the deadliness of opioid misuse and the risks of opioid addiction," Azar said.

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