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Opioids: Know the Risks (#KnowTheRX) campaign is critical in fighting Northeast Ohio's opioid epidemic

Officials kicked off an expansive awareness campaign on Wednesday, April 5, about the risks of prescription opioid abuse, which is a critical component in the fight against a heroin and fentanyl epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives in Cuyahoga County.

The Opioids: Know the Risks (#KnowTheRX) campaign is a collaborative effort among local agencies and organizations, production companies, hospitals – including St. Vincent Charity Medical Center – and media outlets. The campaign will include news coverage, public service announcements, commercials, print advertisements and social media outreach on the risks associated with prescription opioids.

"While the opioid crisis is national, I don't believe any other community in the country has put together a collaborative effort like this one," Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said Wednesday at a news conference.

Opioids: Know the Risks (#KnowTheRX) will be an ongoing campaign organized by the Cuyahoga County Opioid Marketing Task Force. The campaign is intended to combat a heroin and fentanyl epidemic that is becoming deadlier each year. Cuyahoga County reported a record 610 overdose deaths in 2016, and is on pace to report nearly 850 in 2017, county Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson said.

“Last year Cuyahoga County lost more than 600 of our own to overdose deaths,” said David F. Perse MD, president and CEO of St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. “That’s one every 13 hours. Five years ago at Rosary Hall, we were admitting 4 to 5 patients a week for opiate addiction. Today, we are admitting 4 to 5 patients a day. We know firsthand the importance of bringing our community resources together to help end this epidemic that is killing our friends and family members.” 

The "Know the Risks" campaign could help reduce those numbers because many people develop an addiction to prescription opioids before transitioning to heroin and fentanyl, Gilson said. "If we don't create a population of people who are addicted to pain medication, they won't seek out illicit substances down the road," he said.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson agreed, saying that education is key to stopping an epidemic that has claimed approximately 60 lives this year in his city.

"If we're going to make an impact, it has to be in several steps. And the first step is about education and prevention," Jackson said. "The more we're able to prevent ... the better of we'll be."

The Cuyahoga County Opioid Marketing Task Force is comprised of officials from Cuyahoga County, the city of Cleveland, the medical examiner's office, the U.S. Attorney's Office and local hospitals, including the MetroHealth System and St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. Most of its members are marketing and communications professionals.

The "Know the Risks" campaign is intended to supplement ongoing efforts that have focused on treating addicts, supporting their families, stopping the spread of drugs and arresting drug dealers.


Read more about this effort in the collaborative news release from Cuyahoga County:

Prescriptions can lead to Addiction

Ohio’s Cuyahoga County comes together in an unprecedented awareness blitz: “Know the Risks” 

Cuyahoga County is in the middle of a public health crisis, with more than 600 heroin, cocaine and fentanyl deaths in 2016, and a projection of up to 850 deaths in 2017. 

These devastating numbers led to the formation of a task force made up of individuals from local hospitals, Cuyahoga County, the US Attorney's Office and the Medical Examiner's Office. The task force, mostly comprised of marketing and communications professionals, determined to use the power of media and communication to fight the deadly local opioid epidemic. 

Much of the community efforts have been focused on treating addicts, supporting families, controlling the spread of deadly drugs, arresting dealers and performing autopsies on the deceased. The task force saw an opportunity to educate the general public about a critical component of addiction: 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, four out of five new heroin users started with an addiction to prescription opioids. 

The task force has amassed an unprecedented pro bono effort to generate awareness regarding the risks of opioid prescription abuse. The collaborative effort “Know the Risks” pulls together local agencies, production companies, most major media outlets in the county, area hospitals and many other community partners. 

The campaign started with local advertising agency Doner, who created an awareness campaign, free of charge. Global Prairie is donating time to lead the accompanying social media effort. Northeast Ohio media outlets including television, radio, billboard, print, digital and online, are all donating air time for commercials and extensive news coverage, including a live phone bank on April 6 from 5 to 11:30 p.m. 

“Cuyahoga County is in the throes of a crisis. We are considered by many as a model for best practices for attacking this epidemic. Even so, people continue to die,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish. “This region is known for our innovation and our collaboration and this effort is a perfect example of the way that our community comes together time and again to confront our most serious challenges. I extend my sincerest thanks and appreciation for all those involved in this critical effort.” 

“Everything we have been successful at as a City we have done as a community,” said Mayor Frank G. Jackson. “The same is true as we face this opioid epidemic.” 

“What the Cleveland area media is doing is truly unprecedented,” said Christine Merritt of the Ohio Broadcasters Association. “All media outlets on all platforms are not just covering the story, they are being advocates for the community, leveraging their platforms and their extensive reach to get the word out.” 

The Cavs, Downtown Cleveland Alliance, and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority are also joining the effort, donating advertising space to the cause. Area hospitals will utilize their social media platforms to spread the word and will work internally with providers to educate patients on the risks associated with opioid use. Cleveland based HKM will donate printed materials and other collateral that will be seen across the county. HP Manufacturing agreed to donate materials, time and expertise for a public event to be revealed in May. 

The MetroHealth System’s President and CEO, Dr. Akram Boutros applauds the collaboration it took to pull this campaign together. “What this group has done in a short period of time with virtually no budget is utterly remarkable,” said Dr. Boutros. “It shows the true spirit of this community and the willingness of people to work together.” 

“We have to get people to understand the risks of opioids and the devastating consequences on families across this community. This campaign gives me hope that we will open eyes across the county and get at this epidemic from the front end, creating an awareness that will stop people from taking that first pill.” 

“Last year Cuyahoga County lost more than 600 of our own to overdose deaths,” said David F. Perse, MD, president and CEO of St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. “That’s one every 13 hours. Five years ago at Rosary Hall, we were admitting 4 to 5 patients a week for opiate addiction. Today, we are admitting 4 to 5 patients a day. We know firsthand the importance of bringing our community resources together to help end this epidemic that is killing our friends and family members.” 

“While we focus our efforts on treating those who are battling addiction, we also recognize the importance of preventing people from getting started in the first place. This is a community problem and it requires a community response. We are pleased to see our community partners step up with us to participate in the Know the Risks campaign.” 

“Know the Risks” kicks off with a 1 p.m. press conference on April 5th at the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s office at 11001 Cedar Avenue. Additionally, local media partners and residents are encouraged to expand the conversation through social media using the #KnowTheRx hashtag. More information is available at 

About Cuyahoga County 

Cuyahoga County is the largest distributor of health and human services in Northeast Ohio, serving hundreds of thousands every year. As a County Government we are committed to driving regional growth, economic opportunity, and individual well-being by mobilizing cross-sector resources and providing superior services. Together We Thrive. 

About St. Vincent Charity Medical Center 

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is Cleveland’s faith-based, high-quality healthcare provider. Our distinguished doctors and caregivers are devoted to treating every patient with clinical excellence and compassionate care. St. Vincent Charity Medical Center’s expertise focuses on addiction and behavioral health, the Center for Bariatric Surgery and the Spine and Orthopedic Institute. Owned by the Sisters of Charity Health System, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center provides Care Beyond Medicine. For more information, visit 

About The MetroHealth System 

The MetroHealth System is an essential health system committed to providing health care to everyone in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and improving the health of the community overall. Its 7,300 employees deliver care to everyone at its main campus, just west of downtown Cleveland, and at more than 20 other MetroHealth locations. MetroHealth’s mission is, “Leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery and teamwork.” For more information, visit 

About the City of Cleveland 

The City of Cleveland is committed to improving quality of life its residents by strengthening neighborhoods, delivering superior services, embracing diversity and making Cleveland a desirable, safe city in which to live, work and play. 


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