Public education campaigns about drugs often rely on ineffective and stigmatizing scare tactics. They spread fear and shame that make people who use drugs feel more isolated and more hesitant to connect with treatment and support services. A different approach to public health messaging is needed—one that embraces harm reduction. With “Go Slow,” a prominent campaign that launched in July 2019, Baltimore now has such an approach.
There were nearly 800 overdose deaths in Baltimore in 2017, four times the amount in 2011. Over 75 percent of the fatalities involved fentanyl. Bmore POWER partnered with Behavioral Health System Baltimore (BHSB) and the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) to create a harm reduction communications campaign about fentanyl.
No one has a better understanding of the risks of fentanyl than the people with recent or current lived experience with it. We decided that they should lead the development and design of the campaign.The campaign was developed with Bmore POWER and other peers and people with who use drugs in a three day brainstorming session.
We decided to focus on giving people who use drugs practical, actionable tips to reduce the risk of fatal overdose. The message of the campaign is deliberately simple: “Go Slow. Fentanyl is here. Have a plan.”
The Go Slow campaign includes ads on Baltimore mass transit, online and on social media across the city. Bmore POWER members give out Go Slow materials with naloxone during outreach.
The campaign outlines six practical tips: 1. Carry naloxone, 2. Go slow, 3. Never use alone, 4. If you must use alone, have someone check on you, 5. Talk to friends and family about what to do if you overdose, and 6. Test for fentanyl.
In addition to giving out actionable harm reduction tips, Go Slow respects the dignity and autonomy of people who use drugs. We recognize that if people can take steps to protect themselves and their friends from overdose, they will.
The campaign is for both people who use drugs and the family and friends who care about their safety. It encourages people to create an overdose prevention plan, which helps to bring the conversation about drug use and overdose into the open. Many people care about someone who uses opioids but feel powerless to help if that person isn’t interested in treatment. They are desperate for anything that will prevent another loved one from dying. Go Slow empowers them to be proactive about it.