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Special Project

Special Project
From the 11th Annual Shorty Awards

Over The Dose: Combating the Opioid Epidemic

Finalist in Health, Fitness & Medical


In 2016, 40,000+ Americans died from an opioid overdose. 40% of overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid, such as Oxycontin. While health officials are rightly calling this an epidemic, few understand how to educate those most at risk. Rather than use scare tactics that focus on people dying from opioids, young adults need better information to make healthier choices.

Formative research revealed that high-risk young adults often perceive opioids as carrying little risk for occasional, recreational use. While they avoid harder drugs, they see opioids as a safe option. When asked about the staggering opioid deaths, they didn't know which drugs were opioids or how opioids can harm them, and assumed overdoses only happen to addicts. With these misconceptions, it is easy to see why campaigns focused on death fail.

Over The Dose (OTD) addresses this by focusing on the knowledge necessary for young adults to understand the risk. Avoiding the typical sensationalism of public health campaigns, OTD presents information in a matter-of-fact way using modern design, and interaction digital engagements to promote learning and comprehension. By explaining what opioids are, how they work, and how they can escalate to health risks, the campaign makes consequences more relatable, allowing young adults to think through their options, rather than try to scare them. The website focuses on micro-engagements that allow young adults to play with the facts and reveal additional information as they go. This approach respects the audience's abilities to make better choices while incorporating best practices in online learning.

Strategy and Execution

People learn information in different ways. To facilitate learning, Over The Dose (OTD) created an interactive, educational website designed with interactive modules that stimulate micro-engagements to deliver important pieces of information about opioids. Each module includes multiple parts of a single concept, allowing visitors to process the information at their own pace. Module topics include the types of opioids, how they affect your body, their addictiveness, the risks of mixing them with other substances, and the consequences of abuse. Throughout the site, slick, modern animations make the engagement fun for young adults, encouraging them to continue to see what happens next.

Commercial, social, and digital ads were all designed to drive more young adults to the website. Ads focused on the how the website provides quick and useful information that young adults should know to prime them for learning when they visit. Once a visitor arrives at the site, they encounter an interactive educational experience, 5 Facts Everyone Should Know About Opioids that focuses on building the necessary blocks of knowledge to understand the true risk. This digital experience goes from foundational knowledge, to understanding risks, and finally uses scenarios to increase the relevance of risks. Throughout, visitors are encouraged to explore each topic more in-depth on topic-focused pages. To further drive the message, "to my brain, opioids and heroin might as well be the same thing," a video combining animation and narration walks visitors through the similarities of opioids and heroin to increase the perception of risk associated with prescription pain reliever misuse.

OTD's approach is critical to achieving social change. If young adults don't know which drugs are opioids, don't understand what opioids do to their body, and don't understand how an opioid overdose actually happens, it is easy to see how they would dismiss a commercial or website that simply tells them "opioids cause overdose, don't use them." In our focus groups, young adults didn't even connect that their recreational drugs, which they may call "percs" or "oxys" even were opioids. And even if they knew their pills were opioids, they falsely assumed that overdoses only occur when someone takes too many pills, dismissing the warning as something that doesn't apply to them. In reality, the combination of one opioid with enough alcohol (both depressants) could cause a person's body to shut down while they are asleep, regardless of how many times before they had taken opioids. This very real and broadly applicable risk is shocking to young adults who use the drug recreationally and is completely missed by the plethora of campaigns that focus on just trying to scare their audiences. OTD is a campaign built based on the knowledge and perceptions the audience currently has, respecting their ability to make the right choice with enough clear and memorable information.

OTD's innovative approach changes the tone of drug prevention websites and focuses more on what this drug is doing to your body and why that is dangerous, rather than focusing on overdose statistics or fear mongering.


Over The Dose continues to successfully communicate educational messages to inform the target audience of the similarities between heroin and Rx opioids, correct the misperceptions of safety, and explain why an overdose risk exists. Over the Dose has exceeded its goal by reaching nearly 90% of the online young adult audience in Vermont across two paid social campaign runs.

In the short time since launch, over 4,000 unique visitors were driven to the site. An incredible 45% of homepage visitors completed the entire digital experience, which includes five educational modules and a poll. Visitors spent an average of four minutes on the site, which is roughly three times the industry average. On social media, promoted posts achieved 5X times the industry average engagement, with audience members often coming back with more questions about their true personal risk.

Altogether, over 1,600 website visitors interacted with the educational content in some way, whether clicking through carousels, interacting with animations, or voting for opioid facts that surprised them the most. Not only did the micro-engagements provide young adults with a fun, interactive experience to learn important information, they also gave the State of Vermont a new way to track how much information a website visitor was truly consuming, an innovation that is now being explored across public health campaigns


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Rescue | The Behavior Change Agency, Vermont Department of Health


Entry Credits