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Let’s Face Heroin Addiction

By Joe Miller | September 18, 2015

Let's Face Herion

We shared this heroin addiction campaign blog a year ago. It is reposted because the situation is not getting better. (Blog amended and edited on September 29, 2016.)

After hearing and reading comments from good, smart people saying how pissed they are at the cost of an Epipen versus an overdosing addict’s access to Narcan and that we should just let them die… well… we couldn’t keep quiet. At dRC, we know all too intimately the disease of addiction and what it does to good, smart people and their loved ones. Fortunately, we also know it’s possible to recover, to address the causes and conditions of addiction, and to be better than before.

Heroin addiction and opiate addiction remain on the rise. Deaths from overdose remain at epidemic levels. Our “Let’s Face Heroin” campaign was reasonably effective. But it was just one of many hundreds of well-intentioned, under-funded, under-resourced initiatives.

We see this a lot in our business — reactive marketing and the dilution of resources through fragmented branding and inconsistent messaging. Single campaigns built on a shoestring to speak to multiple audiences. Little kingdoms within larger organization vying for recognition, credit, and resources. Lots of disconnected brands trying to reach the same audience.

It’s way past time for governments, government agencies, and non profits to get their respective acts together.

We need better, more, smarter, coordinated, connected, multi-layered campaigns — campaigns that end with easy-to-access professional help and ongoing treatment for all addicts. Serious penalties for the banks and businesses that help to launder billions (if not trillions) of drug trade dollars must be enforced. A unified national will and a lot of personal, local involvement are required to get this thing under control.

Lots of people, against the odds, fight like crazy to turn the tide. Good work is being done everywhere, including research on the efficacy of different treatment approaches and medicines. One day, as a society, we’re going to accept the disease of addiction, root out its cause, and develop effective treatments. Just like treatments we administer for diabetes and other chronic conditions. Let’s demand a national commitment to sensible health care for opiate addiction and the funding it must have from our Congress and our state legislatures.


This guest blog was contributed by Bob Stefanov of Bob Stefanov Productions and Kelley Hynds of Hyndsight Productions. dRC created the digital ad campaign and helped with SEO for the Let’s Face It project.

Setting the Scene:

A lot of things can threaten us and our defense mechanisms to adjust, to desensitize. Overriding these mechanisms in an audience to make a single crisis worthy of their attention is a big challenge. Our specific challenge was to create awareness around the opiate epidemic that’s killing and traumatizing our friends and families and eroding our communities.

In 2013, The Cuyahoga County Office of Prosecutor (CCOP) recognized that this epidemic was on pace to take more than 200 lives annually from opiate overdose. They knew they couldn’t just prosecute their way out of it. A multi-disciplined approach –medical, judicial, law enforcement and other professionals — was needed. Creating awareness in the community as a preventative measure became a key component.

Hyndsight Productions and Bob Stefanov Productions took on this challenge in October 2013. The result is the “Let’s Face It!” campaign. The work is found at

The Campaign:

  1. Puts a real face on the crisis — not just a junkie in an alley but also the affluent suburbanite in their bedroom
  2. Frames the crisis to give the community a sense of scale and urgency
  3. Provides expert insight into the topic so informed action can result
  4. Provides access to resources related to heroin addiction and opiate abuse for users, teens, parents and the community

In year one we created the “Let’s Face It!” theme, broadcast spots, testimonial videos and a website. This year (2015) we are adding reach through digital ads and search engine optimization. This is what drove our partnership with designRoom Creative.

How We Faced this Heroin Addiction Project

Heroin affects countless families nationwide and is particularly tragic in Northeast Ohio with a nearly 400% increase in heroin-related deaths since 2010. This project, for us, was not based on sales or profits, but human lives.

First we created a process between our two production companies, one which required knowing each other’s strengths and dividing components of the project accordingly. Once we had an operating structure it was vital to add team members who could help execute project goals. We all work remotely, which is crazy at times! In a way, we created a different model for handling a project this size. The results are encouraging.

Our Most Important Metric is Saved Lives

The 2014 numbers are encouraging, even if they are not a cause for celebration. But deaths related to heroin and opiate addiction seem to be leveling off.

Many constituents and interests needed to be considered and managed. It required collaboration, research and targeted creative to give this topic the critical impact and believability necessary to make an impact.

We let the goal guide the work — increase awareness of the heroin epidemic. As we dove into the project we uncovered the following opportunities:

  • Information about heroin and opiate addiction is out there, but not readily available in one place. We saw an opportunity to consolidate.
  • Denial is rampant. The, “it’s not in my neighborhood” attitude has to be addressed to open up audiences ears and the minds.
  • Stigma hangs heavy around addiction. It reinforces the notion that since addicts choose to take drugs they should have to deal with it. Research indicates that, as a community, we should hold addicts responsible for their actions but also recognize the need to rehabilitate them. It costs less to rehabilitate than incarcerate!

Also, the sheer size of the target audience was a challenge, since the opiate crisis involves all races, genders and socio-economic levels. With limits on budget, we had to choose our target audience wisely. We aimed at influencers – female heads of household ages 25 – 45.

The campaign takes form:

  1. A website where all information could be accessed from a simple-to-use, non-threatening, central location
  2. A series of testimonial videos from various perspectives — a parent, a sibling, a doctor, even a recovering addict — sharing their truths about heroin
  3. A series of short, powerful broadcast spots to attract attention and drive traffic to the website
  4. A clear organizational structure to the website to allow various audiences to get the information they search for

Phase Two — Refining Tasks for Specific Impact:

  1. Optimizing the website for SEO and keywords
  2. Developing an online ad campaign that could reach the market with more precision
  3. Creating a video calling out the easy-to-miss signs of heroin use

Throughout it all, our goal remains the same: make people aware and provide access to the best information.

Increasing awareness on opiate and heroin abuse is going to require much more time and effort. We hope to continue to be a part of that. Living with this project for a couple years has changed us. It’s changed our perspectives on what is and can be done to get better results, so we believe it is possible to affect others.

Let’s Face It! Heroin addiction is real, it’s where we don’t think it is, and it’s killing us.

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Joe Miller

Joe delivers copy, generates concepts, and helps determine strategy. He’s been doing it since 1991 when he started working with a small downtown Cleveland marketing firm. Joe joined the designRoom team as a freelance writer in 1993. He has an annoying knack for finding the core of a problem and the heart of a solution. He also makes the best coffee in the office. In early 2008 he joined the Marketing & Communications team at the Ohio Lottery. While there, Joe led the team that developed and implemented the Lottery’s first-ever social media initiative and crafted the Ohio Policy and Procedures and Terms of Use that guided all the Lottery’s social media involvement. In addition, he created a Winners are Everywhere campaign and managed the creative agency responsible for its implementation. Joe is also a professional musician and educator and occasional composer. He’s the Jazz Trumpet faculty and Jazz Combo conductor at Cleveland State University and has performed all over the world.

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