Senator presses DOJ on opioid campaign criticized for ‘scare tactics’

Camille Fine

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is raising concerns about a campaign in his home state aimed at combating the opioid epidemic and questioning the Department of Justice’s role in it.

In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent Thursday, Markey asked what the department’s role was in “designing, funding or supporting” the campaign in Massachusetts.  

President Trump pledged a “massive advertising campaign” against opioid abuse in a speech where he declared abuse of the drug a public health emergency.

Recently, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston — along with the New England field division of the Drug Enforcement Administration — launched a statewide opioid abuse prevention campaign called #ReducetheRisk that Markey said received criticism from the public health and medical community.

“They expressed concern that the advertising campaign utilizes scare tactics that have proven ineffective in changing behaviors or preventing young people from beginning to use drugs,” Markey wrote. “These experts have warned that the use of some of the language and imagery in this campaign is not only medically inaccurate, but also stigmatizing and counterproductive.”

Markey noted that one anti-drug campaign, which cost the federal government more than $1 billion from 1998 to 2004, was later found to not only be ineffective but may “even have had an unintended and undesirable effect on drug cognitions and use,” according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health.

He said the mistakes of past campaigns shouldn’t be mirrored and wants to know if the campaign launched in Massachusetts is related to the one the president’s national emergency declaration or his pledge to launch a large-scale campaign. He also asked how the Justice Department plans to work with public health officials on such a campaign and if the department would work with those local public health officials who understand the dynamics of their community.

Advocates have said any nationwide campaign to stem the opioid epidemic would need to come with substantial funding, as hundreds of millions of dollars have been appropriated for public health campaigns in the past.

Trump is donating his third-quarter salary, $100,000, to creating such a campaign.

Tags Donald Trump Ed Markey Jeff Sessions
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