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We can unite on need for public education campaign to combat discrimination.

Nearly everyone in the addiction field can agree on a couple of issues. The first is that more funding is needed for prevention, treatment, individual and family recovery support services, research and education. The second is that addiction is a stigmatized illness.

At the May 2004 Providence Summit on Addiction (see July 2004 issue of Addiction Professional for a report of Summit proceedings), I volunteered to staff the temporary steering committee for a public education campaign while it is in its planning phase. I did so because I believe deeply that a comprehensive public education plan is needed.

The essence of why I am volunteering to staff this effort at this stage is this: Can we afford not to do something about the public's attitudes toward addiction so that we can change policies in this country? If the groups in this field don't design this campaign, who will? If not now, when? Should we wait until any documented illicit drug use in someone's past bars him or her from getting employment or accessing healthcare, housing or education?

The process of getting feedback on the Providence Summit messages and obtaining funding to draft these messages has been slow, and thank goodness. No one organization can make this campaign happen alone. Groups need a chance to vet and discuss their concerns about this campaign. It is important, and there may not be another opportunity to try to do one anytime soon.

Campaign history

Upon a request from a group of us who were discussing if a common federal advocacy agenda for the field could be developed, Manisses Communications Group agreed to host the first Providence Summit in 2003 and to secure supporting funds. Manisses' involvement allowed the group to discuss advocacy messages and strategies in a neutral setting. At the first Summit, Manisses committed to host a second if participants were interested.

It is also important for temporary steering committee members to review and understand the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence's (NCADD's) role with the campaign, and how much money has been pledged. NCADD already had been conceptualizing a public education campaign and had identified a public relations firm for the effort. It has now agreed to sign a contract with this firm as the lead agency for the campaign effort, which now involves a coalition of field organizations and therefore will advance a more comprehensive agenda.

NCADD is just one member of the temporary steering committee involved in initial planning and research of a public education campaign and the design and implementation of ongoing fundraising strategies. In addition, NCADD has volunteered to serve as a link between the temporary steering committee and the campaign's public relations firm as the steering committee refines the strategy and content of a plan. NCADD stepped forward at the 2004 Summit because there was the sense that if no one did, the momentum for a campaign might be diminished.

Financial resources pledged for the campaign so far are a one-year federal grant for $200,000 and a $125,000 private grant through NCADD contacts. Others on and off the temporary steering committee have offered to pledge in-kind and other financial resources once they have reviewed and refined the campaign strategy.

Questions have arisen about how the Partnership for a Drug-Free America's (PDFA's) new treatment and intervention campaign announced in September and the public education plan envisioned at the Summit will complement one another. I believe the PDFA's treatment initiative is exciting and will provide useful information to refine any public education efforts in our field. If we run public education campaigns that complement and inform one another, it will only improve the quality of the messages the public receives.

Campaign benefits

A public education or "social marketing" campaign that changes public attitudes toward addiction by getting people to be screened and by promoting the societal benefits of recovery would help every organization in our field. Most field organizations must obtain outside funding, and regularly need new and creative projects to bring to funders. In that respect, the consensus messages emerging from the Providence Summit have the potential to bear "fundable" fruit for nearly every organization in the field.

Any campaign generally must justify need and be able to document positive outcomes. Public education messages such as the ones crafted at the Providence Summit offer new opportunities for both. Two of the "calls to action" included in the Summit messages were to urge the public to seek help for themselves or a loved one by getting screened for addictive disorders and to reduce stigma by publicizing powerful personal stories of the healing and transformation made possible by recovery.

It is relatively easy to justify the need for the campaign's key objectives of reducing stigma and changing public attitudes. And the campaign's deliverables--increased screening and decreased discrimination--can be measured to test effectiveness. (Did the campaign increase the number of people screened? Did the public understand recovery and its value to the community better after the campaign than before?)

Here are a few ideas on how organizations could implement the public education campaign. They could submit proposals on how their constituencies can distribute the campaign's messages at local, state, regional or national levels. Professionally prepared grassroots kits explaining the campaign would be tailored so that organizations could include their own messaging and tactics for distribution to their constituents based on what works with their target audiences. I can envision the telling of powerful personal stories of recovery, with individuals communicating their stories after attending training sessions and serving on speaker's bureaus.

Other ideas might be to produce tailored educational packets for use in the workplace, as well as new addictive disorder screening protocols for nurses, doctors, guidance counselors and clergy. Funding opportunities aside, these types of projects would be critical to the success of a public education campaign and can be properly executed only by organizations with experience on the ground.

Overcoming challenges

Before you sigh, assume I don't live in the real world and turn the page, stay with me. I know the disparate agendas in our field make the consensus-building part of designing such a campaign extremely difficult. I know it takes a lot of money to do public education campaigns. Given the challenges and the rare opportunity, the deliberative pace of this project is healthy. It is a massive undertaking that will not be as effective if groups do not understand its origins and see the payoff for them.

Since May, groups have been vetting their concerns and proposals have had to be written and rewritten for funders. The original campaign description has to be revised from what was originally drafted for the Summit to what I believe are better ideas emerging from the Summit consensus plan.

I am happy to report that the private and federal money pledged so far for this campaign should be flowing by mid-November. It will take a few weeks thereafter to get a revised plan into the hands of all temporary steering committee members. The members will need some time to review and refine it. We hope that process will be completed by year's end.

Once the plan is revised, organizations will have an opportunity to assess the benefits of their participation in this campaign. If consensus can be reached, this will make the campaign a lot more appealing to funders who like to see field consensus on big projects prior to funding.

Do I think every organization in the field will want to be involved in this public education campaign? Probably not, but I expect most will see the benefit and recognize this as a unique opportunity.

Caution on this campaign does not mean that one more time our field's effort is fizzling. The campaign planning work is proceeding; it is just proceeding cautiously. The goals of combating stigma and discrimination and changing public attitudes and policies on addiction and recovery are too critical for us to rush and get this campaign wrong. For my part, I will continue to report on the campaign's progress.

No worthwhile challenge is easy. This campaign is one of those challenges.

Carol McDaid is principal of Capitol Decisions, Inc., a government relations firm in Washington, D.C. She and her colleague, Gwen O'Brien, are health care consultants and representatives of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and the Partnership for Recovery, a coalition of nationally known drug and alcohol treatment providers. McDaid's e-mail address is
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Title Annotation:Advocacy
Author:McDaid, Carol
Publication:Addiction Professional
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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