“Give me an H! Give me an E! Give me an R-O-I-N! What’s that spell? HEROIN!”
So began a bizarre Super Bowl Sunday advertisement about heroin that the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NCADA) Saint Louis chapter ran for Saint Louis-area viewers. It chronicles the “All-American” girl—a pretty, thin, white cheerleader —who throws away her possessions and becomes increasingly haggard-looking.
Shallow and tone-deaf, the ad crassly repeats the played-out narrative that now heroin addiction matters, because it is is affecting white, middle-class youths with bright futures and loving families.
The video’s Abercrombie & Fitch interpretation of the “all-American” girl drops her pompoms—a sure sign that she’s going off the rails. Shen then throws what looks like a laptop over a railing and leaves leaves her dog tied to a dumpster. When her mom calls, rather than answer, she tosses the phone into the trash. Finally, she gets out of a Subaru and throws a layer of clothing onto the wet street, stumbling toward the camera with blackened eyes, her long blonde hair looking very messy.
Can you bear to read the lyrics that accompany all this?
“Started at a party / Everyone was there / She had a couple pills / On a little dare / Now she’s missing class / She’s dropping her pompoms / Nobody knows where she is / Not even her mom / Everyone thought she was the all-American girl / So there goes the books / It’s all about the score / There goes the doggie / Life is such a bore / There goes the family / She’s got a new friend / There goes the looks / This is the end.”
In the aftermath of the ad’s airing, NCADA-STL’s Facebook page was littered with angry comments. Critics called the PSA stigmatizing or even glamorizing, and were disappointed that it offered no encouragement for recovery, treatment options, or harm reduction resources.
“I know that the heroin problem is hitting St. Louis hard. But we know what the solutions are – more treatment, real honest drug education, naloxone to reverse ODs. Maybe the problem would be more contained if you were using evidenced based solutions rather than spending $ on something that encourages stigma and possibly use. I pray for the people of St. Louis, that they get [evidence-based] solutions rather than this drivel.”
“I am a person in long term recovery from heroin and I am shocked and appalled by this PSA. I have worked hard to overcome this disease and through treatment, therapy, and recovery supports I have not needed to reengage in my substance use disorder for 7 years. I urge you to rethink the decision to air this ad. There are people all over the nation, some that have commented on this thread who work tirelessly to stomp out stigma like this.”
A self-identified cop weighed in:
“As a police officer involved in delivering police assisted addiction recovery programs to people suffering substance use disorder, I find this portrayal of heroin and opiate addiction to be appalling, overly simplistic, and extremely unhelpful to the cause of recovery. As purported professionals in the field of helping people with substance use disorder, do you honestly believe this advertisement will cause anybody to not have a disease? It will not. If you are doing this to ’cause a public discussion’ on the issue of substance use disorder, you have successfully reset the dialogue back 10 – 15 years.”
Twitter didn’t like it either:
— (((K.Kane-Willis))) (@KathieKaneW) February 8, 2016
— Johann Hari (@johannhari101) February 8, 2016
"All-American" cheerleader leaves dog at dumpster bc heroin! Terrible commercial set to run during Super Bowl. https://t.co/xag3OglR1s
— Lauren Krisai (@laurenkrisai) February 5, 2016
That heroin ad was terrible.
Why'd she throw her phone out?
She could sell it for more heroin.
Really poor decision making
— Jon Lewis (@jlewis5211) February 8, 2016
— Diane Goldstein (@dianemgoldstein) February 7, 2016
Still, if you’re someone who looks for incremental positive change, last year’s NCADA heroin PSA was arguably even worse. That cringe-inducing commercial ending with a young white man overdosing to a folksy, uncomfortably upbeat soundtrack: “And that’s how / how you got addicted to heroin. And that’s how / how you OD’d on heroin.”