What Broadcasters Are Doing
America’s broadcasters are leading the effort to end opioid abuse. Radio and television stations across the country are providing extensive news coverage, donating airtime to programs and public service announcements to educate their audiences and sharing information online, on social and through digital apps. A few examples include:
For over a year, broadcast TV group Raycom’s four-person investigative team, led by Lee Zurik, sifted through reams of data and conducted countless interviews. They had a single mission: to identify the nation’s most prolific opioid prescribers. The result of their steadfast reporting was “Licensed to Pill,” a six-part docu-series on the consequences of opioid over-prescription, the health care providers prescribing the drugs and their financial relationship with the pharmaceutical companies that produce opioids. Read the Q-and-A behind the series.
Citadel Communications' ABC affiliate WLNE-TV Providence, R.I., launched "Opioid Crisis: Addiction Hitting Home" to address the prescription drug abuse epidemic. The two-week series began February 5 with a report on opioid use in the local community. Nightly segments examine different aspects of the issue, including facts about addiction, where the drugs come from, how they devastate families from every income bracket and community, and existing resources.
Radio and television stations across Arizona aired a 30-minute commercial-free investigative report, “Hooked Rx: From Prescription to Addiction,” on January 10 in prime time. All television stations and 97 radio stations aired the program to educate their communities on the dangers of prescribed opioids. It is the follow-up to “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” which reached one million viewers in 2015 and won a Rocky Mountain Emmy and an Alfred I. du Pont Award.
Beasley Media Group’s WKML-FM, WZFX-FM, WFLB-FM and WUKS-FM Fayetteville, N.C., in collaboration with Cape Fear Valley Health, will present an hour-long, commercial free simulcast, “Fayetteville Fights Back,” on January 30 to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic. On-air personalities will moderate the simulcast, featuring physicians, law enforcement officials, behavioral health experts, addiction specialists and local and state leaders, including Governor Roy Cooper (via recorded message) and Attorney General Josh Stein (in the studio).
“Fayetteville Fights Back” will provide facts on opioids and their proper usage, identify the signs of addiction and include information on seeking help. The stations will list resources on their websites and feature frequently asked questions from listeners on-air and using Facebook Live. This event is part of Beasley Media Group’s nationwide “Community of Caring” initiative.
“It's our job as broadcasters to inform our local community and with the high rate of opioid abuse in North Carolina, we felt very strongly about being involved in this cause,” said Erika Beasley, vice-president and market manager of Beasley’s Fayetteville cluster.
Media General’s NBC affiliate WCMH-TV Columbus, OH held a "Drug Disposal Day" on May 2. Almost 2,600 pounds of pills and drug paraphernalia were turned over to law enforcement. This equates to about 1.8 million tablets. Drug Disposal Day aims to curb teen prescription drug abuse by offering a way to safely dispose of expired and unused medication. Almost 4.5 million teens report recreational use of prescription drugs.
Tribune’s CW affiliate WPIX-TV New York City aired a six-part series, “Heroin A-Z,” from November 9 – 14, 2015. Reporter Mary Murphy and Investigative Unit Videographer Kenton Young covered many facets of the heroin crisis, including the highways where drugs enter the region, local families who have been shattered by heroin abuse and its devastating effect on the community.
News-Press & Gazette’s CBS affiliate KION Monterey Gonzales P.D. promoted the Gonzales Police Department’s participation in the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on October 22. The initiative fights prescription drug abuse by removing expired or unused prescription drugs from circulation.
TEGNA’s ABC affiliate KIII Corpus Christi, Tx. hosted prescription Drug Take Back Day on October 22 to help fight the prescription medicine abuse crisis. The station participated in the DEA’s national event, through which people could safely dispose of prescriptions.
Graham Media Group (GMG) announced on August 23 the launch of “Opioid Nation: An American Epidemic,” a multi-platform commitment addressing the prescription drug abuse epidemic. During the week of Sept. 5, all seven GMG stations will air and stream locally-produced specials, plus staff phone banks and Facebook Live sessions with substance abuse counselors. The initiative also includes monthly investigative reports, original programming, town hall meetings, digital engagement, PSAs and community partnerships. GMG will highlight people who are impacted and explore government policies. “Opioid addiction is ravaging our communities big and small and local broadcasters are uniquely positioned to tell these stories. The diversity of issues affecting our Detroit community differs from those in Houston and Orlando,” said GMG President and CEO Emily Barr. “It is our responsibility to inform viewers and we hope that ‘Opioid Nation: An American Epidemic’ will not only educate the communities we serve, but help those who are affected find a path forward through this unprecedented crisis.”
Hearst Television stations aired and streamed a live primetime one-hour special, “Matter of Fact: State of Addiction,” on September 13 to address America’s opioid epidemic as part of Hearst’s year-long multi-platform news and investigative series that launched in January 2017. Award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien hosted the program, which featured live inserts from local stations addressing the crisis in their markets and field reports from around the country. Viewers used the hashtag #stateofaddiction to post pictures, videos and stories, creating a virtual “wall of remembrance” for victims of the epidemic. The special included segments with physicians, U.S. DEA Director Chuck Rosenberg; U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson and Rob Portman and Rep. Greg Walden.
Hubbard’s NBC affiliate WHEC-TV Rochester, N.Y. aired “Special Report: Heroin in Schools” on November 5. The special examined the growing epidemic of heroin use among students, which claimed the lives of twenty local kids in one month alone.
Addicts abusing dogs to score drugs
ATLANTA - There is a frightening new twist in the opioid epidemic. With doctors more skeptical of prescribing pain medication, Channel 2’s Tom Regan discovered some addicts are abusing their pets to score drugs. "We're trained to look for signs of abuse," Buckhead veterinarian Dr. Duffy Jones said. Read the Full Story from WSB-TV Atlanta Here
Midwest Communications’ WTAQ-AM Green Bay, WHBL-AM/FM Sheboygan and WSAU-AM Wausau partnered on “Heroin In Wisconsin: Save Our Families,” a live, five-hour special that aired from 6 – 11 a.m. on May 6. Morning show hosts engaged listeners in a conversation about opioids and provided in-depth coverage on Wisconsin’s growing addiction problem. The stations also worked with state and local law enforcement to raise money for heroin and opioid treatment facilities. Al Peterson of NTS Media said it is “a great example of local radio using its resources and airwaves to address a major issue facing their listeners and communities.”
Gray Television’s CBS affiliate WSAW-TV, Wausau, WI aired a three-part series, "News Channel 7 Investigates: Northern Wisconsin Opiate Oppression," beginning May 23. Reporter Matthew Simon examines the opiate crisis across north central Wisconsin. New information shows despite pill drop off sites, Marathon County residents believe that the opiate epidemic is still entrenched in the state.
Hearst’s ABC affiliate WMUR-TV Manchester, N.H. hosted a summit on March 14 to address the opioid crisis ravaging the community. Thousands of students attended the event to hear from actors, athletes and parents about the epidemic. Following the event, WMUR received phone calls from viewers saying the effort is assisting them with getting help.
Graham Media Group’s NBC affiliate WDIV Detroit provided day-long “Faces of Addiction” coverage about the heroin epidemic on November 17. Dr. Frank McGeorge teamed with WDIV-TV reporters Kevin Dietz, Hank Winchester and Sandra Ali to present important information on this growing problem. The reports included information about why it is a priority to clean out medicine cabinets and a report about parents and grandparents who are overdosing on drugs while their children are in their care.
Rubber City Radio Group’s WAKR-FM, WONE-FM, WQMX-FM, and WNWV-FM, in the greater Cleveland area, have devoted numerous resources to addressing the local and nationwide opioid epidemic. The station group invested a week’s worth of intensive reporting on its news and community talk programs regarding the topic, supported by live broadcasts and a strong web reporting presence that included social media. Also, the “Jasen Sokol Show” conducted a live four-hour program from the local Department of Health, which included a broadcast of a news conference detailing new initiatives to help listeners dispose of outdated prescription drugs safely. The station group also developed a section of their website where listeners can visit for additional information. Access it here.
The Arizona Broadcasters Association worked with stations throughout the state to air an eye-opening documentary, created by the Cronkite School at Arizona State University, on the same date at the same time, often referred to as a “roadblock,” to ensure this important message reached the maximum number of people.
Since 2013, the Sinclair Broadcast Group has organized and aired live town hall meetings across the country featuring public health of cials, drug counselors, law enforcement and drug addicts. Each local station also uses their digital properties to share “Hooked on Heroin,” an investigative report focused on the growing public health crisis.
Midwest Communications launched a live, one-hour special “Heroin in Wisconsin: Save Our Families,” where morning show hosts engaged listeners in a conversation about opioids and provided in-depth coverage on Wisconsin’s growing addiction problem. The stations also raised money for heroin and opioid treatment facilities.
CBS has aired more than $11 million worth of anti- opioid PSAs. The network’s “60 Minutes” also aired an in-depth feature on “The Heroin Epidemic.”
In the last few years, ABC-owned stations and affiliates have been on the front lines reporting on the opioid epidemic. In March, ABC News’ “World News Tonight” anchor and “20/20” co-anchor David Muir aired a special report, “Breaking Point: Heroin in America.”
FOX Television Stations produced dozens of special news reports covering the opioid epidemic, in addition to the station group's ongoing news reporting that airs as part of its local news coverage in markets across America.
Univision has devoted enormous resources to covering the opioid crisis, including programming on its highly-rated KMEX-TV in Los Angeles and a multi-part documentary detailing abuse in Chicago that aired on the Fusion network.
NBC Nightly News has taken multiple in-depth looks at the nation’s growing heroin addiction crisis. In addition, NBC-owned stations have devoted enormous resources to the issue. WCAU-TV Philadelphia won an Emmy for its half-hour special “Generation Addicted.”
“Inside the Triangle,” a six-week investigation by TEGNA NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta, dove into the heroin crisis in the city’s suburbs. This was followed by numerous broadcast reports and social conversation by the station and its viewers.
Hearst’s WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H., took an in-depth look at the heroin epidemic with a special town hall meeting. A panel of experts heard from people on the front lines, including family members, addicts, emergency responders and doctors.
In the last year, ABC-owned TV stations, CBS Television Network and iHeartMedia have devoted more than $15 million in airtime to sharing public service announcements on the opioid epidemic.
Graham Media’s KSAT-TV in San Antonio took a deep dive into the opioid epidemic in South Texas with a series of stories and links to resources airing both on air and online.
K-LOVE aired “Dependence On Rx Painkillers” as a special addition of its national “Closer Look” show. On-air personality Kenny Noble Cortes spoke with a recovering prescription opioid addict and the vice president of admissions for a detox center during the program. Listen to the :60 spot promoting the show below.
Check out the many other ways local broadcasters have helped bring awareness to prescription drug abuse.
Find further information on helping those in your community battle opioid abuse.
» WHNT Covers Suicide Prevention
» Raycom Stations in 50 Markets Air Opioid Abuse Documentary
» WCVB Supports Addiction Recovery
» WMMR-FM Philly Discusses Opioid Crisis
» WLNE-TV Launches “Opioid Crisis: Addiction Hitting Home”
» Beasley’s Fayetteville Radio Stations Address Opioid Epidemic
For more recent stories, visit NAB's Broadcast Public Service website.
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Broadcasters around the country are fighting opioid abuse. Tell us what your station is doing.