While most of the country was watching fun Super Bowl commercials like the one spoofing the Brady Bunch and the one featuring a sultry Kim Kardashian spoofing herself, viewers in the St. Louis market watched something altogether different: an ad featuring a frantic mom running upstairs, discovering her young son on his bed, dying from a heroin overdose.
The ad immediately generated controversy in the days leading up to the big game. Facebook was popping with a near-constant stream of reactions to it, with many parents of children lost to fatal overdose feeling mortified about the upbeat sounding song and the shocking, triggering imagery of a parent discovering their child dying from an overdose.
I share those reactions, but I’m even more troubled by what wasn’t in the ad—namely, any potentially lifesaving information at all—or, more specifically, the lack of any reference to naloxone. I’m not the only one who noticed the glaring absence of the medicine in the commercial.
By now, it seems most of the country has at least heard of the ‘wonderdrug’ that has been miraculously preventing fatal opiate overdoses for more than 40 years. With people like Attorney General Eric Holder, Drug Czar Michael Botticelli and former president Bill Clinton (among numerous others) calling for expanded access to naloxone to help prevent overdose fatalities, it’s clear that awareness about the lifesaving drug is beginning to reach a saturation point.
Which makes it all the more strange and disappointing that the ad made no reference to it.
The ad makes it appear that the son had just used heroin, moments before being discovered by his mother. In the real world, that would be an ideal opportunity to use naloxone to save a life.
If only the ad ended with her running to the bathroom medicine chest to retrieve the naloxone nasal spray and then administering it to her son.
If only she had called 911.
If only she had tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Most heroin overdose victims don’t die within seconds after consumption, but rather over a period of time, depending on if they are breathing or not—which is why it’s so critical to teach people to practice rescue breathing for an overdose victim unable to breathe normally on their own.
If only she had done anything suggested by public health advocates as a best practice at the scene of a suspected opiate overdose.
Activists, lawmakers and the public health community have been working arm-in-arm, tirelessly, for several years now to simply enact some basic policy changes that can help save lives. States all across the country are passing 911 Good Samaritan laws, which encourage people to call for help at the scene of an suspected OD without fear of arrest or prosecution for minor drug law violations. States are also passing laws to ensure easier access to naloxone, with some states no longer requiring a prescription for its purchase at a pharmacy.
That ad was seen by hundreds of thousands of people in the St. Louis area. It’s devastating to know that we all just missed an extraordinary opportunity to promote awareness about the critical need for parents of opiate users to keep naloxone in the house, for precisely the reason depicted in the ad.
One ad can’t be all things to all people, but this one, had it just simply shown the mother doing anything at all to try to revive her son, could perhaps have saved one real parent a lifetime of crushing grief.
Meghan Ralston is the harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.