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State plans potential $1 million anti-addiction public awareness campaign

Campaign would encompass traditional TV, radio, and print outlets as well as a web-based offering and could feature Gov. Christie in some role

christie
Credit: Tim Larsen/Governor's Office
Gov. Christie visits Law Enforcement Against Drugs (LEAD) sixth-grade classroom at Washington Elementary School in Nutley.

New Jersey plans to launch a multifaceted public-awareness campaign regarding the dangers of drug addiction and the easy availability of prescription opiates, outreach that will build on a current ad for a new treatment helpline that features Gov. Chris Christie.

The state wants to hire a company to create ads for television, radio, and print, as well as the web that highlight the causal attitude some teens have regarding the dangers of prescription drugs and how addiction rates are rising among youngsters. The schedule calls for ads to start later this month and run through June.

While state officials declined to say how much the campaign would cost, documents posted on the New Jersey Treasury Department website require companies to submit plans for a “hypothetical budget” of $1 million. It also asks bidders to submit examples of other work, including “at least one” contract with a $5 million “price point.” Quotes for the work are being accepted until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 15.

Creating public awareness

The goal of this initiative is to create awareness and provide education throughout the state about the dangers of addiction, particularly opioid addiction, and recovery services for New Jersey residents,” the requests for quotes states. The document also refers bidders to the executive order Christie signed last month declaring addiction a public-health crisis.

The campaign outlined in the RFQ also reflects the message Christie shared Tuesday with students at Washington Elementary School in Nutley, where he stopped to promote the Law Enforcement Against Drugs program, which has replaced DARE in most schools.

Christie stressed the importance of prevention and treatment and told the youngsters, when it comes to drug addiction, “you’re the ones who are going to solve it because you’re going to be smart and you're going to make good decisions and when you have friends who need help, you’re not going to keep it a secret. You're going to help them get the help they need to feel better and to feel healthier because the most important thing is for you to be healthy.”

The new campaign is part of Christie’s ongoing push to increase awareness of the state’s growing epidemic of addiction, reduce the availability of prescription opiates, and expand treatment options. The governor outlined a number of plans to address those goals during his State of the State Address on January 10. Ten days later, he released an ad filmed in his office that centered on his pitch for the state’s new “one-stop” phone and web-based helpline, available at 1-844-REACH-NJ or www.reach.nj.gov.

“One number. One website. A clear path to help,” Christie says in the ad, which is running on cable stations in the New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania area and was paid for through an existing contract with available funds, according to media reports. Some 28,000 state residents sought treatment for opiate addiction in 2015 — while thousands more were unable to get care — and 1,600 lost their lives to the disease.

Restoring Christie’s legacy?

While Christie has generally received broad-based support for his new focus on addiction, Democratic leaders have questioned if it should be New Jersey’s only priority. And online commenters have criticized the governor for devoting government resources to a public campaign they believe is primarily designed to restore his legacy.

To some, the ad with Christie recalled the controversial “Stronger than the Storm” campaign the state ran in 2013, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, to promote the Shore’s tourism industry. Christie — who was then running for re-election — appeared with his family in the commercials, which were funded through federal recovery dollars. Complaints from Congressional Democrats and others even prompted a federal investigation of the protocol, but the governor’s office insisted there was no wrongdoing and no charges resulted from the probe.

(Then-Assemblyman Joe Cryan (D-Union), the party chairman, even proposed legislation (A-3791) that would prevent a governor or lieutenant governor who was seeking office from appearing in publicly funded ads or nonemergency public service announcements during an election year. The bill did not advance.)

Christie’s office declined to answer questions about the new ad campaign – including whether he would participate – but the RFQ calls for a quick rollout. Bidders must be ready to meet within two days of the deadline next week and the schedule envisions commercials beginning to air early the following week. The proposal also insists on an analysis of the campaign’s effectiveness.

The state’s request notes the campaign should “enhance and promote awareness” building on certain statistics that indicate teens may not understand the dangers associated with using highly addictive prescription drugs. For example, one-in-12 high school students have tried Vicodin for recreational use, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and even among those who have been prescribed the drug legally, one in five said they took more than the doctor indicated. More than a quarter of teens surveyed in 2012 mistakenly believed prescription drugs were safer than street drugs.

According to the RFQ, federal statistics show some 467,000 youngsters age 12-17 used prescription drugs in 2014 and 168,000 were considered addicted. An estimated 28,000 had tried heroin that year; 18,000 are considered addicted, and 16,000 were currently using at the time.

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