HealthDay News — The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline (800-662-HELP) seems to be underappreciated in the media and by the general population, according to a research letter published online January 14 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

John W. Ayers, PhD, from the University of California in San Diego, and colleagues examined public awareness and engagement with 800-662-HELP in the week after singer Demi Lovato was hospitalized for a heroin-linked overdose. Counts of articles, posts, and searches that mentioned Lovato, opioid or heroin, and 800-662-HELP were obtained. The strategy was replicated for the week after Anthony Bourdain’s suicide substituting Bourdain, suicide, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

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The researchers found that in the week after Lovato’s overdose, there were 42,500 news stories, 972,500 tweets, and 14.7 million searches referencing Lovato. Opioids or heroin were mentioned in 25,300 news stories, 342,200 tweets, and 1.2 million searches. 800-662-HELP was referenced in 216 news stories, 258 tweets, and 8,000 searches, consistent with the mean for 90 days before the overdose. In contrast, after Bourdain’s suicide there were 4,940 new stories, 20,900 tweets, and 29,000 searches for the National Suicide Lifeline, reflecting 22.9, 81.0, and 3.6 times greater volume, respectively. These differences persisted even after factoring in general interest in Bourdain and suicide.

“The dearth of engagement with 800-662-HELP we found can help to motivate strategies for health leaders, news makers, and media companies to promote 800-662-HELP,” the authors write.

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