Big Pharma on the Hook to Solve “Opioid Epidemic”

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One of the most universally reviled Super Bowl commercials in recent years is not one that’s typically discussed. Sure, most of us spent too much time trying to get Puppy-Monkey-Baby out of our heads, but that’s not the one to which we refer. No, this one had the power to bring the entire big game party to a screeching halt with only three words: opioid induced constipation.

Typically, the Super Bowl is the venue for high-end creative advertising from the country’s biggest brands. You see Budweiser, Coke, Pepsi, Doritos, and a few upstarts that always steal the show. Most of them have something in common: they appeal to the heart of Middle America: barbecues, block parties, football in the backyard and finding happiness.

Sure, there are always a few outliers, but has there ever been a more “fish out of water” and then the spot talking to football fans about their opium addiction? To put that into perspective, the company invested millions on less than a minute of air time to grab the attention of America’s constipated opioid addicts. People so accustomed to taking these painkillers that they were suffering from gastric issues related to long-term dosing.

What, exactly, does that say about the state of killing pain in the United States? To some, it says a great deal. Groups who deal with addicts saw that ad as an indirect advertisement for the drugs themselves, not for the drug that helps them be more comfortable taking the drug.

After the commercial aired, these organizations went out in full force, pushing a massive grassroots educational campaign to help people understand what they called the “opioid epidemic.” The statistics they offered were staggering. Did that many people really depend on pharmaceutical grade opiates just to get through their day?

These campaigns and others like them were largely successful, and many Americans began asking when enough would be enough. That, in turn, led to other groups and even some politicians getting involved. Then the finger-pointing started.

Most of the fingers ended up being pointed, rightly or wrongly, at the pharmaceutical industry. Not hard to see why. They provide the drugs, and they are, without a doubt, the biggest, easiest target. But do they really deserve to have that big, red target painted on them? Turns out, it really doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not. It’s what people believe … more and more people every day.

That means pharmaceutical companies are facing a consumer PR crisis, whether they’re responsible or not. That a lot of people take a lot of opioid drugs in the United States is without dispute. The big questions are “why” and “is it necessary.” Followed by, “if not, who’s to blame.” Right now, the prevailing message appears to be “skip the first two questions and just go after Big Pharma.”

If the drug companies want to reverse this trend, they need to look into a multipronged effort to change and replace the current prevailing narrative. Because “placing blame” is not where this ends.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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