Jayla Baxter, a freshman at Bucks County Technical High School, used to sing along whenever she heard the rapper Future’s hit single “Mask Off.” At the time, Baxter didn’t know what Future was talking about when he mentions Percocet in the song’s chorus. But now that she recognizes the brand name of this highly addictive painkiller, she isn’t holding her tongue when it comes to exposing the unglamorous reality of opioid misuse.
“If [my friends] get that idea like ‘Well he’s doing it, let me go do it—it might be fun,’ I can tell them it’s not a good idea,” Baxter says. “It will ruin everything for you. Just say away from that type of stuff.”
Baxter is a member of PA Youth First, a youth advisory council assembled by the nonprofit Public Health Management Corporation to help develop a multimedia opioid misuse prevention campaign with funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The resulting PA Opioid Prevention Project officially launched Tuesday with the release of a series of videos and outdoor advertisements running throughout Allentown, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and York. The campaign’s approach, style, and messaging was determined by PA Youth First, with the tagline: #It’sYourMove
“This not something that is just a Philadelphia issue. This is not something that is just a rural county issue. This is an issue that crosses boundaries,” says Christina Miller, managing director of PHMC. “We wanted to make sure we had in the room young people that represented all of those perspectives and all of those experiences to learn from each, and also to design these ads that would ultimately be targeting their peers.”
Thirteen individuals die every day from drug overdose in Pennsylvania, according to a 2017 Pennsylvania State Health Assessment, and 85 percent of those deaths are result of prescription or illicit opioid use. Attorney General of Pennsylvania Josh Shapiro spoke at the launch, where he claimed prosecuting drug dealers and holding pharmaceutical companies accountable was a priority for his office.
“[This] is the number-one killer of Pennsylvanians,” says Shapiro. “And it is, I believe, our top public safety priority and our top public health priority in the Commonwealth. We know that this crisis knows no municipal bounds—rural, urban, and suburban. This is targeting everyone, and we have a responsibility to deal with this in a holistic, thoughtful way.”
Morgan Alston, another member of the youth council who will be attending Monmouth University in the fall, got involved after watching a close friend struggle with addiction. Alston attends Downingtown High School West, an institution which she feels is “going haywire” in response to a drug culture; she says she has seen or heard of students using [drugs] in the bathrooms between class.
Since Alston, Baxter, and the other youth council members are all from different parts of the state, the group met on weekends leading up to the launch in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and eventually, Philadelphia. After training from PHMC on advocacy, the opioid crisis, and the drugs neurological effects, the teens decided what the messages should be and how to present it.
According to Alston, it comes down to having the information, and strength, to make informed choices, despite social pressure. “As a teen, you are faced with decisions good and bad—make the right one,” she says.