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Yale’s Dr. Patrick O’Connor partners with experts to address TV portrayals of addiction

The annual number of opioid overdose deaths now exceeds those from car crashes and gun violence combined. Adolescents and young adults have been especially hard hit by this crisis, and negative media portrayals of them have not helped matters, says Yale’s Dr. Patrick O’Connor. To bring about change in this area, he recently collaborated with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Viacom, and the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC). 

O’Connor,  the Dan and Amanda Adams Professor and chief of general medicine at Yale School of Medicine, was joined by Jack B. Stein, NIDA’s director of Science Policy and Communications, at a Briefing at Viacom in New York City on April 18. 

“Bringing science into the discussion of Addiction in the media is a critical step in assuring that the public receives accurate and timely information related to substance use and all of its medical and social consequences along with its impact on families and communities,” O’Connor said. The briefing was sponsored by EIC, a nonprofit that focuses on health and social issues in entertainment.

Given the impact of addiction on its target audience, Viacom launched a program called “The Listen Campaign” that was designed, in part, to fight the stigma associated with addiction and educate viewers about addiction treatment. 

At the briefing, O’Connor and Stein met with Viacom screenwriters, content development experts, and other leaders to provide evidence-based information to help them in the development of plots and characters dealing with substance use disorders. A major goal of the effort was to ensure that television shows avoid stereotypes, inaccurate portrayals, or inadvertent promotion of substance use in dramas, comedies, and reality shows.

The partners also focused on the challenge of overcoming stigma as a means to getting people into treatment. A discussion on “language matters” was designed to address stigma by encouraging the use of descriptions such as a “person with a substance use disorder” rather than an “addict” and “drug abuser” who might be “dirty” rather than “clean” concerning their substance use.

“Language very much matters,” said Stein. “Studies show that terminology used can influence clinician decision-making when caring for people with substance use disorders.”  

The briefing underscored the fact that addiction is a complex but highly treatable chronic disease and that recovery is a lifelong process. ”The entertainment industry is committed to authentic stories,” said Marie G. Dyak, president and CEO of EIC. “This briefing addressed intended and unintended outcomes that result from social cues, triggers, and language. Viacom’s Listen Campaign represents a huge step forward in encouraging people to seek help.”

O’Connor agreed: “It is our hope that accurate messaging on addiction in the media that is based on science will help to address the current opioid epidemic and addiction more broadly. This collaboration represents a unique opportunity for academic medicine, the NIDA, and industry to ‘get it right’ and contribute to the broader public health goal of addressing addiction and saving lives.”

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Source: Yale Health

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Yale’s Dr. Patrick O’Connor partners with experts to address TV portrayals of addiction


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