Counterfeit pills are everywhere, and 1 in 4 contain fentanyl. This problem is tragically on the rise throughout the United States; around 15% of all drug deaths are caused by fake pills, and the number is 2 to 3 times that for youth ages 15-24. In 2021, drug-induced deaths rose by more than 30% from the previous year, up to over 100,000, and 64% of these deaths involved fentanyl. Song for Charlie is a national nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness and educating young people about the dangers of illicit fentanyl and counterfeit pills, while changing the conversation around youth mental health to ensure that young people have the support they need to avoid turning to unknown pills. Wondros began working with Song for Charlie in 2021 to create a multichannel social media campaign aimed at adolescents and young adults, raise the organization’s public profile, and forge media and influencer partnerships. Our engagement has grown over time to encompass a wide range of communications work and asset production.
For the past two and a half years, Wondros has worked closely with Song for Charlie, serving as ongoing communications partners and handling creative asset production for the organization. A large portion of our work has focused on humanizing the crisis and telling the emotional stories of victims and their families. Early on, we created a messaging strategy, ad targeting strategy, and social media strategy to drive awareness of the organization and grew Song for Charlie’s baseline audience across platforms. We also drew on our network to facilitate introductions to partners and supporters, including influencers, donors, media partners, and others, landing SFC major opportunities to bring attention to this urgent issue. In the spring of 2023, we were part of a coalition of organizations building a national Day of Awareness about fentanyl and fenta-pills.
More recently, we designed and piloted a peer-to-peer education program, called Fentanyl Fight Club, in a sample of schools across Los Angeles in the fall of 2022, with a view toward scaling it to other schools in the future. This robust ambassador program empowered youth to share vetted facts and information with their peers and helped us to engage with them on this topic in an ongoing, organic way — adding a powerful, youth-led dimension to building a movement that complements our social campaign. As part of this initiative, Wondros also coordinated with schools and students and worked with Song for Charlie to design a custom student resource website.
Wondros also developed a mission film and a newly designed website that we launched this summer to serve as a parent portal, guiding them through having The New Drug Talk with their kids. The portal was built in partnership with a new initiative with the California Department of Health Care Services (CA-DHCS) aimed at providing families with young people ages 13-23 with fentanyl awareness and education resources. Wondros’ team of strategists, designers, and developers worked closely with Song for Charlie’s leadership to translate their vision into updated branding and an expanded web ecosystem to accommodate the new initiative. Part of this effort was the creation of a robust content architecture strategy to present complex information around fentanyl resources in an accessible and digestible format aimed at families and teens. With many existing resources, a key challenge was structuring the information to make it easy to find and understand from a variety of audience perspectives.
Wondros has also supported the partnership between the California Department of Health Care Services and Song for Charlie through the creation of a longform (30-minute) documentary aimed at teachers and students, content that now lives on the redesigned website. The documentary features in-depth interviews with individuals affected by and working to address the crisis, from medical professionals to fentanyl overdose survivors. These powerful testimonies are woven together to provide a synoptic view of the crisis and our way through it, all while underscoring the vital importance of addressing mental health problems among the country’s youth and centering non-judgmental conversations about substance use.
Our work with SFC has yielded a variety of impact metrics. Within our first six months of working on SFC’s social media, we were able to generate double, triple, and in some cases quadruple growth in followers across social platforms. The campaigns and content we have supported have also gone viral on TikTok, where Song for Charlie has received over a million likes. We are proud to see our messages resonating with young people as well as their teachers and caregivers, and to have built a network of other advocacy groups and organizations with deep experience reaching young people and changing their behavior for the better. We are committed to meeting audiences where they are, and presenting accurate, factual information in a way that is relevant and accessible, creating authentic, inspiring, and informative content.
For the peer-to-peer program, we have already seen great success launching the pilot at one school. Just a few days after launch, one of our key performance indicators—taking an online pledge to not take fake pills and to help others understand the dangers of doing so—saw more than 60 pledges completed. This number continues to increase as the student group finds other opportunities to share information with their peers. In addition, we anticipate a significant increase in awareness of the issue, and are currently measuring this with a before-and-after survey of the school community.