Selling Hope: A Creative Journey into Opioid Addiction

It was our lives that would never be the same

When you work as an advertising creative on healthcare brands, your biggest challenge is to reconcile your vision with the absurd amount of safety information required to sufficiently eff up your perfectly crafted layout. Sometimes, you just can't take one more revision. Sometimes, you fantasize about packing it up and moving to Bali to write sci-fi novels. And sometimes, you get a project that kicks your ass into caring more than you thought you ever could about crushing an assignment. 

If you're not aware that today is National Overdose Awareness Day, you are one of the few people left out there who hasn't been personally affected by the opioid epidemic sweeping our nation. Lucky you. 

Opioid overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50. Overdoses killed more than 2,000 people in Massachusetts alone last year. This crisis has been particularly devastating for Boston's homeless community, with overdoses being the leading cause of death for this population. 

While most of us can relate to some level of addiction—be it sugar, caffeine, nicotine or alcohol—we can't fathom what it's like to be homeless. We thought the creative brief gave us a solid clue. It didn't. That is, until our team started working on our campaign to raise awareness for Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program's latest innovation. 

SPOT (Supportive Place for Observation and Treatment) is a first-of-its-kind medical drop-in center that provides life-saving interventions to members of the homeless community who are at risk of overdosing. SPOT provides a safe, non-judgmental place where people can receive medical monitoring and harm-reduction support, and access recovery services. Since opening in 2016, it has exceeded all expectations. What started as a simple conference room turned into a 12-seat triage center, and has logged over 8,000 visits so far, with one in five of its participants moving onto addiction treatment.

Our target audience was Boston's "millennial mobilizers," who pride themselves on pushing important issues into the social media spotlight. We had to drive them to donate, and to ask others to find the compassion to do the same. Not your typical assignment, but a genuine opportunity to actually make a measurable difference in the lives of others—a rare occasion in the life of an agency creative.

Turns out, our lives were the ones that would never be the same.

When we started meeting some of the SPOT participants, our campaign revealed itself: Boston's Underdogs. No one expected these people to live, let alone come back from the brink of hopeless addiction to participate meaningfully in the world. And everyone in Boston, sports fan or not, could relate to the idea of being the predicted loser. 

Kristen, a 28-year-old mother of two, got into drugs at the age of 13 when her own mother sold her body to the highest-bidding drug dealer in order to get high. Rafael, who started sniffing heroin at the age of 21, had personally saved the lives of three people with the drug Narcan the morning of our interview. Rudy, an opiate addict of 21 years, stopped shooting up two months ago, finally finding the courage to reconnect with his family.

We captured the raw emotion of each person's story to help humanize—and destigmatize—a struggling and often forgotten community that could easily include any of us. And we learned that opioid addiction has no preference or prejudice. 

So the next time you're on your way to work and you walk by someone on the street you'd typically shield your eyes from, look them in the eye and acknowledge they are someone's father or mother, daughter or son. They have the same hopes, dreams and fears as the rest of us. Our walk to work will never be the same, and neither will we, thanks to saying yes to this local pro-bono project.

If you or your agency has an opportunity to do work for a nonprofit, and tackle a social or global issue that needs a bit of a brand lift, do it. Find the time. Now more than ever, we need creative talent to put more good into the world. Not only will you make a difference for someone less fortunate, you'll expand your perspective in a way that will only feed your creative capabilities moving forward.

Donations can help SPOT expand its services and continue providing innovative treatments to those who need them most. Boston loves a good underdog story, and with your help we can begin writing the next one. Visit Bostons-Underdogs.com today to donate, and help save lives. 

Profile picture for user Melissa Cartwright
Melissa Cartwright
Melissa Cartwright is creative director at Hill Holliday.