The roots of America’s opioid epidemic are dark and multifaceted, but the toll is straightforward in its stark terribleness: of the record 72,000 deaths caused by drug overdoses in this country last year, more than two-thirds involved opioids.
As the public health crisis rages on, policy experts and politicians are scrambling to find solutions that can help. On Tuesday, marketing services holding company WPP said it is joining the mission.
WPP has launched the National Opioid Action Coalition in partnership with iHeartMedia and market research firm Fors Marsh Group. WPP’s government and public sector practice and agencies Ogilvy, Y&R, and Cole & Weber are involved in the initiative, providing thought leadership and, in the case of Y&R, an “understanding of the healthcare practice,” said Sean Howard, global managing director of WPP’s government and public sector practice.
WPP said on Wednesday morning that it is planning to merge creative firm Y&R with digital shop VML. Jon Cook, VML CEO, is set to lead the combined firm.
One of the coalition’s top priorities is to reduce the stigma of addiction, which can be a barrier to treatment. WPP is working with a top Hollywood director, who Howard declined to name, to create public service announcements with that goal in mind. One of the messages is “how one person can make a difference,” Howard said.
The initiative is also testing a mobile app, slated to launch in the coming months, that will help people report opioid overdoses and share their location so they can receive and administer Naloxone, a medication capable of reversing overdoses.
“WPP’s operating companies have been involved in battling the opioid crisis on an ad hoc basis for some time,” WPP CEO Mark Read said in a statement. “[The coalition] formalizes our efforts and demonstrates our commitment to help spark a national conversation about the stigma of opioid addiction and inspire more companies to bring the weight of their brands to help combat one of the greatest public health epidemics in the US.”