Maryland Public Television (MPT) determined back in 2016 that it wanted to make a meaningful contribution to the education of the general public on this important topic. Arizona PBS had produced and aired the program “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona” in 2015. MPT acknowledges its fellow public broadcaster for that program and for illustrating how this subject could be effectively presented to viewers. MPT thought it important to concentrate not on the legal aspects of addiction, but on treatment and recovery, in order to help impacted people find resources.
On February 11, 2017, MPT premiered its new program. The hour-long television event, consisting of a 40-minute documentary and 20-minute live phone-bank program, aired on 36 separate television and radio stations in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. This unprecedented simulcast achieved gross impressions (adults 18+) exceeding 15 million.
Produced by MPT in association with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Behavioral Health Administration, “Breaking Heroin’s Grip” examined stories of three Maryland residents with an opioid use disorder in rural and urban settings.
The program also was streamed on a special website, breakingheroin.com, created to provide public access to information, the state’s crisis hotline, and resources to assist active users and their families in obtaining help.
Throughout the evening, a live phone bank, staffed by Behavioral Health crisis hotline team members, received calls from addicted individuals, family members, or friends. For the telecast weekend (February 11-12), some 218 phone calls came in, far exceeding the call volume on a typical weekend.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also Tweeted extensively on February 10 to set the stage for the following night’s broadcast. That effort netted more than half a million impressions alone.
On Thinkport, MPT’s educational portal, a comprehensive content page was created to provide both a general overview and an extensive list of community and family resources and programs pertaining to addiction, recovery, and substance abuse.
The simulcast was arranged with member stations of the Maryland, DC, Delaware Broadcasters Association (MDCD). The telecast was also supported by print journalist members of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association (MDDC), an Annapolis-based association of more than 100 member publications and wire services. Participating MDDC member newspapers provided localized coverage of the opioid problem in their own communities, often referencing the then-upcoming MPT telecast.