B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says scare tacticts are not effective when it comes to combating the overdose crisis, following the launch of a “very visual” fentanyl prevention program by a B.C. funeral chain.
On Thursday, Metro-Vancouver-based Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Services kicked off the campaign, with owner Tyrel Burton described as using “powerful, perhaps even controversial, visual aids” to talk about the dangers of fentanyl.
In addition to a 45-minute video – which the funeral chain said would include members of the BC Coroners, first responders and parents effected by the crisis, the campaign also includes a poster of grieving family members surrounding a coffin. Underneath the photo, a banner reads: “Will fentanyl be the reason for your next family get-together?”
In a written statement on the B.C. government’s website, Lapointe said that while public education and awareness is important, “the BC Coroners Service does not endorse, and will not be participating in, fear-based initiatives.”
“Evidence suggests that the reasons for drug use are complex and multifaceted, and programs focused on scaring people from using drugs, are not effective in saving lives,” she said.
“Additionally, they tend to increase the stigma surrounding drug use and actually discourage people from seeking help – an obsolete approach that has led to the loss of countless lives.”
Lapointe also urges caution and strategy when awareness campaigns rely on image use, and points to research from several academic studies that suggest mass media campaigns and public service announcements showed no evidence of effectiveness for substance use prevention.
“In the United States, the ‘Just Say No’ and D.A.R.E. campaigns produced poor results,” Lapointe said, and that a 2008 follow-up study on the $1-billion campaign found it had no positive effects on youth and may have prompted some to actually experiment with substance use.
“The experiences and life situations of people who use drugs, as well as the physiological changes they experience, means they might not be ready or able to engage with the overdose prevention strategies suggested in the some of the ads that currently exist,” she said.
“We need to be aware of peoples’ realities and be realistic about what change they are capable of for the stage they are at in their lives. In the long run, compassion and support, including prescribed medical treatment where appropriate, will be much more effective in turning this crisis around than fear and shame.”