Pennsylvania Creates Statewide Opioid Misuse Prevention Media Campaign

The Commonwealth Prevention Alliance forged a collaboration among prevention, addiction, and media experts to raise public awareness of prescription drug misuse and heroin.

About the Collaboration

PA Stop Break the Connection BillboardThe Pennsylvania Stop Opiate Abuse Campaign ( is a statewide prevention media initiative led by the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance (CPA). Founded in 1976, CPA is an all-volunteer, grassroots organization that supports prevention professionals throughout the state. Its members represent county offices, coalitions, commissions, and other organizations with an interest in substance misuse prevention.

In September 2014, the CPA received an initial grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to develop a public awareness media campaign to address the state's opioid misuse and heroin problems. This effort was soon supplemented by the state’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) to support and assist in dissemination. "We wanted to reduce the stigma attached to addiction and provide information and resources for people who need help," says Jeff Hanley, President of CPA and Prevention Supervisor for the Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission.

The goal of the project was to create materials that Pennsylvania’s single county authorities—the entities responsible for planning and oversight of local drug and alcohol programs—could use to send a consistent, positive message about prevention across the state. The single county authorities needed tools to educate communities about this issue, but often cost was prohibitive.

To accomplish this goal, CPA assembled a workgroup of partners with the skills, experience, and expertise needed to develop a quality campaign. Led by CPA, the PAStop Workgroup included representatives from DDAP; the Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission; the Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addictions; Drug Free Workplace PA; evaluation experts HPW Associates; and the creative agency BOOM Creative.

“We pulled together a team with fantastic knowledge and ability," Hanley says. "We found the research, prevention, and media partners who could understand the issues and help us create resources for the community."

The new campaign, which launched in September 2015, focused on two main messages. "Break the Connection" underscores the relationship of prescription drug misuse to heroin use; and "Anyone can become addicted. Anyone" is aimed at reducing stigma by showing the many faces of addiction. All campaign materials, including designs that visitors can use in their websites, a variety of digital and print ads, pharmacy stickers, brochures, flyers, posters, T-shirts, and video files for public service announcements, are available through the website.

"This could only have happened with all of the unique expertise that was brought together," says DDAP Drug and Alcohol Program Supervisor Grace Kindt. "The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency provided the funding with some additional funding support from DDAP for disseminating the campaign, and the single county authorities provided the reach into the counties. Then CPA brought the right partners to the table to develop and design the website and media campaign materials, run focus groups, and disseminate the messaging. Now our county prevention agencies have well-designed media materials to use that they could not have afforded to develop on their own. We have a standardized campaign with unified messaging that all the counties in the state can use to target an issue we all share. The partnerships have been the key to our success."

Elements of Success

Hire a Media-Savvy Project Manager

Anyone Can Become Addicted AdvertisementHanley knew that developing an effective statewide media campaign would take special expertise and a dedicated project coordinator. So they hired Kathrine Muller, M.Ed., a media-savvy education and behavioral health consultant with experience working at the state level. Muller, a former CPA President, understood how state offices, grants, and nonprofits worked. This experience, along with her knowledge of marketing and advertising, enabled her to serve as a bridge between workgroup partners and their creative agency.

"Kathy's leadership was vital to keeping everyone on task," Hanley says. Muller held twice-monthly phone meetings with the workgroup to make sure all partners were meeting their deadlines and to head off problems before they snowballed. These frequent check-ins were critical, given the group had just a few short months to research, develop, and launch the campaign.

Muller also served as a point person when tough decisions needed to be made. "One of the first things people asked at the early meetings was, 'Who is going to make the final decision?'" Muller says. The group decided that final decision-making would go to the CPA Executive Board, but that it was Muller's job to make sure that all opinions were considered. She also served as a conduit to creative agency BOOM Creative, as she spoke their language as well as that of the workgroup's prevention specialists. Muller translated marketing concepts to CPA's members, while making sure the agency understood CPA's prevention goals.

Find a Media Agency that Understands Nonprofits

Hanley says the most challenging part of the collaboration was finding the right media agency. "We typically don't have these kinds of grant dollars to spend on media processes and programs, so we wanted to be sure we properly vetted the agencies responding to our request for proposals, and chose the best one to work with us." They hired BOOM Creative, located in Pittsburgh, for their experience working with nonprofits in the arts, education, and health care sectors. "They had also worked with other single county authorities and they understood our world," Hanley says. "That turned out to be a really good fit for us."

BOOM Creative worked with Muller to educate PAStop Workgroup members about things such as "media buys" and "click-through rates"—new concepts to people who'd spent their careers working in prevention.

Stretch Your Funding and Your Reach

With limited public funding available to address prevention, Pennsylvania knew it had to get creative to make the PAStop campaign a reality. "Doing business as usual doesn't work anymore," says Maureen Cleaver, DDAP Director of the Division of Prevention and Intervention and the National Prevention Network Contact. "We were fortunate to partner with our state colleagues at the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which provided the grant for this project. Through our SAMHSA Block Grant funding, we could authorize our single county authorities to use media materials we approved of in advance, however they saw fit." This saved time, as the single county authorities didn't need to individually request approval from the state to use materials in their communities. DDAP funding also provided for buys of billboard space and media airtime for the state’s five counties receiving Partnerships for Success funding.

Get Audience Input

To ensure that campaign materials resonated across the state’s diverse population and adequately communicated key campaign messages, the PAStop Workgroup sought the input of a wide group of stakeholders living and working in cities, suburbs, and small-town communities.

"We used our extensive CPA membership network across the state to put focus groups together," Muller says. "We had a parent-teacher organization, a regional meeting of preventionists, and in one case, a group that was in recovery. We tried to balance representation from rural and urban groups in different parts of the state. They let us know exactly what they were looking for, and we could share what we were able to provide. We also made presentations to the single county authorities at their quarterly meetings to get their input." Engaging users through existing networks also ensured that the workgroup and campaign had the support of champions on the ground.

Get State Leaders Involved on a Personal Level

DDAP Secretary Gary Tennis recorded two radio public service announcements for PAStop, speaking to the people of Pennsylvania on a personal level. "America is in the middle of an epidemic of overdoses from painkillers and heroin," one public service announcement says. "Tragically, Pennsylvania's overdose rate is higher than the national average. At least seven Pennsylvanians are dying every day from drug overdoses...."1 

Tennis's involvement helped elevate the campaign’s profile within DDAP. It also helped the workgroup engage other state departments. "Having DDAP on board gave us more weight. It opened doors," says Muller. For example, DDAP helped CPA connect with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Turnpike Commission, who then invited them to place campaign posters at service plazas and rest stops.

Roll Out with a BOOM!

To generate interest and excitement about the campaign, Hanley, Muller, and Scot Fleming from BOOM Creative delivered 17 presentations, including radio and television interviews, prior to its launch. "We first introduced the campaign at our CPA annual conference in June 2015, then did follow-up at Communities That Care regional meetings around the state," Muller says. "We also sent info to the conferences of State County Commissioners, school psychologists, and other organizations." Raising awareness prior to campaign launch helped get buy-in from organizations and groups, who were ready and eager to download the materials as soon as they were made available. Media interviews also piqued public interest in the campaign.


PA Stop Pharmacy Bag StickerDuring its first year, the PAStop campaign focused on the primary markets of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia and surrounding counties. In these areas, motorists pass billboards bearing the campaign's powerful "Break the Connection" message, radio listeners hear the "Anyone can become addicted" public service announcements, and consumers find stickers on their pharmacy prescription bags warning of the deadly connection between opioid misuse and heroin.

An initial analysis of survey data from individuals who downloaded campaign materials found that campaign awareness had spread throughout the state, and that many of the visitors to the PAStop website were there with an intention to disseminate the Web materials more broadly. Specifically, data revealed the following:

  • In three months’ time, individuals from nearly two-thirds of the state’s 67 counties had downloaded media materials. These individuals represented single county authorities, community coalitions, substance abuse prevention programs, law enforcement, state government, and community members.
  • The majority of individuals accessing information planned to use the materials to educate and/or provide information to youth, caregivers, and family-serving community organizations.
  • The most popular materials downloaded by website visitors were brochures (60%), posters (49%), informational toolkit (38%), web ad (32%), and video public service announcements (21%).2 ​

According to Muller, prevention practitioners are coming up with their own ways of using the materials. Many are using them to forge new partnerships in their communities. "There were some unexpected collaborations that happened in the field," Muller says. For example, in Lehigh County, a police department used materials to create a tear-off note pad to hand out informational sheets to families during drug-related encounters. In Newtown, the Council Rock Coalition for Healthy Youth got the "Anyone" video to air before the Star Wars premiere in theaters. Another community working with Drug Free Schools got a local newspaper to donate free ad space. And nine counties joined forces with ABC affiliate WTAE TV in Pittsburgh to place a PAStop public service announcement during the primetime hit Modern Family.

The campaign was so well received that the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency has funded CPA and the PAStop Workgroup for a second year to expand the work into secondary markets. In addition, they are developing materials to target prevention in the workplace, creating training modules to help prevention specialists learn how to best use the media materials, and expanding the campaign's presence on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets.

In addition, Muller and Hanley led the workshop session Opioid and Heroin Prevention Media Campaigns at the National Prevention Network 29th Annual NPN Conference 2016 in Buffalo, NY in September. "[The workshop] was well attended by about 100 people, with lots of interest in how we developed our campaign," Muller says. Now, interest is coming in from other states who are thinking about creating their own media campaigns.

Hanley offers other states this advice: "If you don’t have an organization like CPA, find a statewide organization that has those people in the communities. It helped us to know that our language and our pictures would make sense to our citizens—and that with their input, our campaign would be effective in reducing stigma and changing how people view opioid addiction in Pennsylvania."


1. Hear Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis make a PAStop public service announcement at

2. PA STOP Media Campaign Evaluation. (January 2016.) Prepared by HPW Associates, LLC. 

Last Updated: 09/20/2018