New Addiction Hotline's Slow Start Prompts New Marketing Blitz

By Britni de la Cretaz 11/07/16

The hotline was put in place to help curb the rising overdose problem in Erie County.

New Addiction Hotline's Slow Start Prompts New Marketing Blitz

Erie County, New York is looking for solutions to its overdose problem—by year’s end, there’s expected to be nearly 400 overdose deaths in the county. So in August, it launched a 24-hour addiction hotline that people can call for support and be connected with treatment options. The county also implemented its Rapid Evaluation for Appropriate Placement (REAP) program, which allows people to seek treatment through their local police station.

The problem? Very few people are actually utilizing the new services.

According to The Buffalo News, while the hotline received 70 calls on its first day, it’s averaged less than 10 calls per day since the start of September—a far cry from the inundation of calls advocates of the hotline were anticipating before its launch. The REAP program has not fared much better—only eight people have gone to the police station seeking help for their addiction. Contrast that with similar programs in Massachusetts, where over 500 people have been helped since June 1, 2015—the difference is striking.

The numbers come from a new report released by Erie County that breaks down the nearly 700 calls the hotline has fielded by type, location, and other data points. The report shows that the majority of calls coming into the hotline are from Buffalo, the largest city in the county. Most of the people calling in looking for help reported issues with heroin or other opiates.

In light of the low call volume, Erie County is launching a marketing campaign to build awareness of these new services. It is planning to use $10,000 of the approximately $300,000 dedicated to address heroin and opioid-related issues in the county, towards marketing the hotline. The marketing campaign will include radio spots, bus ads, and flyers to be given out at pharmacies.

This summer, Rhode Island launched a similar campaign to draw awareness to its own new hotline.

"Right now, we are working on the marketing, but we need to keep an eye on this," Erie County Mental Health Commissioner Michael Ranney said at a recent Health and Human Services Committee meeting. "I’m not going to pretend we have a Plan B, but we really need to learn from this."

As the county sees around 10 overdose deaths per week, legislators and advocates say they'll continue to work towards finding solutions.

For the people who say the hotline may be well meaning but ineffective, Crisis Services Executive Director Jessica Pirro said, “This is a new hotline. It’s too soon to say it’s not working.”

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.