Health & Fitness

New ad campaign for KC nonprofit addresses concept of addiction as a disease

This still from a 60-second spot produced by Kansas City-based advertising agency VML shows a teenage cancer patient receiving chemotherapy being confronted by his parents, who express anger and pain that his cancer has returned.
This still from a 60-second spot produced by Kansas City-based advertising agency VML shows a teenage cancer patient receiving chemotherapy being confronted by his parents, who express anger and pain that his cancer has returned.

What if addiction were treated as a disease and not as moral weakness?

That’s the premise of a new advertising campaign that examines how cancer and Parkinson’s patients are treated akin to a person struggling with drugs and alcohol.

In the first of two 60-second spots produced by Kansas City-based advertising agency VML, a teenage cancer patient receiving chemotherapy is confronted by his parents, who express anger and pain that his cancer has returned.

“This is his fault,” a grieving mother says to her husband as their child — clearly in pain — cries. “He did this to himself and you know it.”

The second spot features a single mother with Parkinson’s disease struggling to serve dinner to her children as she endures severe muscle tremors.

“It’s embarrassing, Mom,” the incredulous daughter says to the mother with a brother close by. “We can’t have people over. We can’t do anything. We can’t have normal lives because you can’t stop shaking!”

Both spots were directed on a pro-bono basis by Sundance Award-winning director Chusy Jardine for Kansas City-based First Call, a nonprofit organization that offers prevention and recovery services for people with addictions and their families.

The campaign begins Wednesday.

John Godsey, North America chief creative officer at VML, called the spots an interesting and shocking look at the issue.

“We want people to think and feel,” Godsey said. “Even if you don’t agree that addiction is a disease, please argue that point. At least you’re talking about it. Nothing is wrong with a good debate.”

Susan Whitmore, president and CEO of First Call Kansas City, said the ads were based on findings published in a report released last November by the United States surgeon general’s office.

The report states in part: “Few other medical conditions are surrounded by as much shame and misunderstanding as substance use disorders.

“Historically, our society has treated addiction and misuse of alcohol and drugs as symptoms of moral weakness or as a willful rejection of societal norms, and these problems have been addressed primarily through the criminal justice system.”

The report, Whitmore said, notes nine out of 10 people with a substance abuse disorder never receive specialty treatment, even though scientific evidence shows inpatient, residential and outpatient treatments are cost-effective compared with no treatment.

“The ads are excellent pieces,” Whitmore said.

Godsey used personal experience to help spearhead the campaign. He has been in recovery the last 12 years and has been on both sides of the issue.

“I lost my dad, uncles and cousins to addiction,” he said. “It’s a disease that has to be treated.”

Whitmore said addiction is not a moral issue, but a public health issue.

“Hopefully we start treating people with addictions with much more compassion,” she said.

Visit www.StopTheShame.info to learn more about the campaign or connect with resources to help those seeking treatment.

The website goes live Wednesday.

Toriano Porter: 816-234-4779, @torianoporter

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