How Prince William Co. used social media to warn teens about dangers of fentanyl

Prince William County announces success with their Fentanyl Exposed campaign, intended raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl. (Courtesy, Prince William County Fentanyl Exposed Campaign)

A campaign that aimed to inform kids and young adults about the dangers of fentanyl was successful in reaching many in Prince William County, Virginia, leaders there said.

In July, the county announced the effort, called Fentanyl Exposed, to make young people aware of how dangerous fentanyl can be. It had been in the works since January, according to LeNelle Mozell, the county’s community services behavioral health program manager.

County leaders engaged teenagers in crafting the educational campaign, according to Heather Martinsen, a wellness and prevention senior supervisor with community services. The effort included a website, which described the risks of fentanyl use and how to prevent an overdose, and social media accounts, which were also used to make young people aware of naloxone.

The media campaign launched in response to an increasing number of young people coming through the agency, Mozell said. It was paid for using opioid abatement authority funding.

“For this particular population, what’s scary is that they’re starting so young now,” Mozell said. “If we can put a break in there somewhere, put a stop, get information out, say, ‘Hey, this is happening. Here’s how to protect yourself. Here’s what to do if there is an overdose that you see,’ it’s about saving lives, and it’s about living to see another day.”

According to the program, this campaign got over six million impressions and reached teenagers in Prince William County and cities including Manassas and Manassas Park. The messaging was dispersed on TV, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.

One video showed how quickly an overdose could happen, Martinsen said, and another showed how to react in the event somebody encounters someone who has overdosed.

The county ensured the campaign would be visible on platforms teenagers use, and that multimedia content wouldn’t be too long. The videos range from 15 to 30 seconds.

“It was thinking about, what are some quick ways that we can say, ‘Hey, this is something for you to be aware of,'” Mozell said.

One of the goals, Mozell said, was to inform young people that sometimes they’re not getting the pills they thought they were getting.

“As providers of services, we know what you’re getting is not really what you think it is,” LaNelle said. “Those ‘Perc-30s’ are not really ‘Perc-30s.'”

The social media portion of the effort started in July and went through September, but the campaign has also been displayed at several movie theaters, playing in the kiosks where customers buy movie tickets or popcorn. That’s expected to continue through early next year.

The media agency that the county partnered with said the awareness campaign’s metrics were above average, Martinsen said.

“Our young people really need more information about (fentanyl) and usable information that is applicable to their life,” Martinsen said. ” … The addiction we’re seeing now is truly unimaginable. We’re having family, friends, loved ones that have lost people to this horrible fentanyl addiction, that may not have known what they were taking when they started taking it.”

More information about the county’s awareness efforts is available online.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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