Driving behavior change in Washington State one person at a time

tyler tullis

Michelle Hege
President & CEO

Dec 16, 2018

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Can small steps create major change?

That’s the question Amy Blondin, Chief Communications Officer for the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA) and I explored last week in a presentation we gave at the annual SPARKS Conference in Seattle. The conference focuses on the latest developments in social marketing and brings together marketing and communications professionals from around the northwest. Here’s a summary of our TED-style talk.

DH supports HCA with the “Starts with One” campaign to prevent opioid abuse and misuse in Washington. Although it’s a national issue, the opioid crisis has been felt sharply in our state.

Tens of thousands of Washingtonians have an opioid use disorder and we’ve seen a surge in babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, which means they are born addicted and go through withdrawal as newborns.

This type of public health issue can feel daunting to people – a problem so large that it’s impossible for individuals to make a difference. The central question for the public education campaign became how do we engage our audience without shutting them down?

“Someone else’s problem”

In our research we found people tended to think about the opioid issue as “someone else’s problem.” We also knew that although many other states were using scare tactics in prevention campaigns, that this tactic does not create lasting behavior change and can actually backfire with youth audiences.

We took a different approach: We decided to build the campaign around simple steps that people could take to be part of a larger solution. We needed to recruit our audience to join a larger movement for behavior change. We needed to establish a new social norm that in Washington, we all play a role in being part of the solution. And as a part of this, we needed to give people hope and show them how they specifically could get involved. This idea is at the heart of the “Starts With One” campaign.

“It begins with just one step. One act of courage. One honest conversation. When it comes to preventing opioid misuse, the one who can make a difference is you.”

Campaign Development

In the campaign development we paired important information about opioid abuse and misuse with simple steps our target audiences could take to make a difference: having a conversation with a family member, asking about alternatives to pain management, locking up medications at home and safely disposing of opioids at take back locations.

In its first year, the campaign made some important progress: after seeing the campaign, older adults reported a 22% greater likelihood to lock up their medications and 40% of parents said they were more likely to have a conversation with their young adult child about the risks of opioid misuse. But there is much more work to do. In year two of the campaign we’re collaborating with local communities around the state to get information out into restaurants, gas stations, pharmacies, doctors and dentists offices – to meet people where they are.

We’re also supporting HCA with campaign efforts to promote take back events and locations, expanding materials designed for Washington’s 29 Tribes and educating people about the Washington Recovery Help Line – a resource for anyone seeking information about treatment programs in their community.

Visit the campaign website for simple steps you can take to be a part of the solution. We hope you’ll join Washington’s movement to stop opioid misuse and abuse.

The one who can make a difference is you.


 Thanks to Amy Blondin and her team for their leadership on this campaign and this presentation.

Thanks to Sara Johnston for her service on the PNSMA board. More about Pacific Northwest Social Marketing Association and the SPARKS Conference here.

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