CDC Division of Overdose Prevention
Demonstrating the danger of using multiple drugs.
CDC Division of Overdose Prevention
Demonstrating the danger of using
multiple drugs.

In 2019, nearly 50% of overdose deaths involved multiple drugs.1 Mixing drugs, referred to as polysubstance use, accounts for a higher proportion of overdose deaths than any single substance. But people who use drugs, whether the substance is illegal, legal, or prescribed, are often unaware of the potential consequences. Or feel a false sense of security through personal experience and observed behaviors.

The challenge was to pierce misconceptions and misinformation about mixing drugs in a way that spoke to the high stakes without promoting illicit drug use.

The resulting spot addresses polysubstance drug use at an elemental level, using smoke and liquid to represent the interplay of substances. Muffled sound effects give the impression that we’re within the body, observing the action. As the two elements intertwine and interact, the message is clear. Legal or not, there is no safe way to combine substances.

Lungs filled with liquid fire and smoke
A billboard that reads: Mixing uppers & downers can be deadly. cdc.gov/stopoverdose
A bus stop ad that reads: Mixing uppers & downers can be deadly. cdc.gov/stopoverdose

Instead of specific drug names, we used “uppers” and “downers” to talk broadly about substances in our audiences’ own words.

Facebook ad that reads: Mixing uppers & downers can be deadly. Learn More cdc.gov

The color palette for this campaign was intentionally dark, with muted colors to imply the danger lurking behind polysubstance use. The use of an EKG effect added motion and a real sense of the stakes to the campaign collateral, while facts and figures demonstrated the real cost of this behavior.

Polysubstance ads on a website.
Polysubstance fact sheets

1. NCHS, National Vital Statistics System. Estimates for 2020 are based on provisional data. Estimates for 2015-2019 are based on final data. Learn more at the National Vital Statistics System Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts.