When Did Addiction Become Advertising?

Mad Men / Amazon.com
Mad Men / Amazon.com

I work in advertising. It’s not as glamorous as Mad Men makes it out to be. I’ve never had a whiskey on the rocks during office hours and the smokers are excommunicated to a plastic outpost behind the office. Much of my job involves driving traffic to websites through keyword-laden copy, pay-per-click ads and social media trends targeted by hashtags.

I was watching a snippet of the NBC Nightly News entitled “Heroin in America” about the growing epidemic suddenly recognized as it weaves its way though A-List celebrities and Northeast white suburbia. The clip highlighted an honor roll student turned IV drug user, blonde, handsome, the son of doctors. While the story ended happily by announcing the young man’s 12-month sobriety I found myself disgusted when the clip ended with a plug for NBC’s website and a call to action asking viewers to tweet and tag them at #heroininamerica. There was no crisis hotline, no contact information for your local rehabilitation clinic, just an obvious URL name drop and a social media buzz word. Have we become so adept at communicating on the broader scale that we’ve lost our ability to communicate with one another?

The young man spotlighted in the segment, for example, was not just the son of doctors but the son of doctors who worked to rehabilitate drug users through medical detox and counseling. Were these doctors so busy trying to make their community a better place that they forgot to check their own home for substance abuse?

I have never used or seen heroin in person, only in dramatic black and white photo sets and national news media branding efforts, but I know what it’s like to use. I know what it’s like to feel so much internal pain that one is forced to seek external measures to satiate it. Awareness and advocacy are important in the eradication of any epidemic — but where do we draw the line? When did an addiction become advertising? How can we condense a vice as life-gripping as heroin into a hashtag to drive web traffic?

I ask that we, as humans, take a step back from the big picture and look inside our own communities, families and ourselves. It’s not about how many people we can get to tweet to an anonymous global audience but about getting one person to speak to one listening ear. Let us not be so consumed in the global conversation that we end up losing ourselves.

If you or someone you know is using heroin or any drug, be that someone or find someone to talk to. There is no statistic, data metric or number stronger than the power of one. Call 1-888-249-7292 for help. TC mark

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