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A Deep Dive on Our Substance Use and Overdose Crisis Work

In the United States, drug overdose deaths reached nearly 108,000 in 2021, the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period and a staggering 52% increase compared to two years prior. Over the past 21 years, drug overdoses have claimed more than 932,000 lives. In addition, in 2021, 46.3 million people aged 12 or older in our country had a substance use disorder (SUD). However, less than 10% of these individuals report receiving care or treatment for their substance use.

To address the overdose crisis and rise in substance use disorders in the U.S., the Ad Council has taken a holistic approach to develop distinct campaigns reaching multiple audiences. Given the enormity of the problem, we know one campaign speaking to one audience isn’t enough. It’s important that we create a integrated ecosystem to take on the broader overdose crisis.

Here’s a look at how we’re partnering to bring national attention to substance use and the overdose crisis—one campaign at a time.

Real Deal on Fentanyl

Illegally manufactured fentanyl has become increasingly prevalent, appearing as a contaminant in illicit powdered drugs and being used to create counterfeit prescription pills. Many young people are unaware of this shift, meaning that there is an increased risk of unexpectedly coming into contact with fentanyl. To address this education gap, the campaign looks to educate young Americans on the dangers of fentanyl and the likelihood of it being used in counterfeit prescription pills and illicit drugs.

In addition, Real Deal on Fentanyl also highlights the importance of carrying opioid overdose reversal medications, like naloxone, and encourages young people to learn how to use and locate these resources in their communities. With this lifesaving information, young adults can be prepared to take action in the event they are present for an overdose.

The campaign was developed with funding support from Snap and YouTube. Today, the campaign is sponsored by ONDCP.

To educate young people on the dangers of fentanyl, the campaign website, provides:

Drop The F*Bomb

Parents today face a multitude of challenges in raising teens, who are often stressed and overwhelmed by the pressures of growing up. However, many parents may hesitate to engage in discussions about substance use with their teenage and young adult children. They may also lack the information needed to understand the risk fentanyl poses or may not feel that it applies to their family.

Drop the F*Bomb works to overcome both barriers by highlighting the dangers of fentanyl and helping parents understand why the issue is relevant to their families. The work encourages parents to have these conversations even if they don’t suspect their children would engage in substance use. The campaign was developed with funding support from Meta.

The campaign website,, provides parents with resources to:

Paths to Recovery

According to recent SAMHSA data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 16.5% of the population had SUDs in 2021, affecting people of all races, genders, income levels and social classes. But the data also shows that recovery is possible. Nearly three-quarters of adults aged 26 or older who have identified themselves as having a SUD consider themselves to be in recovery or have overcome it.

While SUDs can impact anyone and the rates of substance use in the Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities are similar to the general population, these communities have experienced sharp increases in overdose rates. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a surge in overdose rates—55% and 21% respectively among Black and Hispanic/Latinx individuals aged 25-44.

Due to compounding inequities including stigma, racial bias, barriers to accessing health care and lack of culturally responsive service, these communities often have lower access to substance use treatment services. It is critical that individuals can access culturally responsive harm reduction and treatment options to support their paths toward wellbeing and recovery.

Start With Hope is our latest effort in partnership with the CDC, National Council for Mental Wellbeing and Shatterproof. The campaign was designed to deliver a message of hope to those living with SUDs as well as those at risk of developing a SUD, with a focus on supporting Black and Hispanic/Latinx populations—connecting them with harm reduction strategies and treatment resources to start their journeys to wellbeing and recovery.

Campaign resources are available in English and Spanish at and From the website, individuals can:

The overdose crisis has affected all our communities. Educating young people and their parents about this crisis, as well as connecting those at risk for or living with substance use disorders to life-saving harm reduction and treatment resources, will play a crucial role in keeping communities safe and supporting paths to recovery.


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