British Columbia's chief coroner says the agency doesn't endorse what it calls "fear-based initiatives" after a funeral home launched a campaign to combat the opioid overdose crisis.
Lisa Lapointe wrote an article that said although public education and awareness amidst the overdose crisis is important, scaring people from using drugs is not an effective measure in saving lives.
Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Services in Langley, B.C., created a fentanyl prevention program in response to the high number of families coming to the chain every month after losing a loved one to an overdose.
The chain's owner, Tyrel Burton, had said in a news release that the company felt compelled to reach teens and young adults before they become addicted.
The campaign uses visual aids the company described as "powerful, perhaps even controversial" that includes a poster of a grieving family surrounding a coffin under the banner reading "Will fentanyl be the reason for your next family get-together?"
The coroners service has reported that more than 2,000 people have died due to illicit drug overdoses in British Columbia since January 2016.
Lapointe said fear-based campaigns tend to increase the stigma surrounding drug use, which can discourage people from seeking help. She said studies in the U.S. have found campaigns to discourage the use of illegal drugs among young people had no positive effects on youth behaviour and may have prompted experimentation with substance use.
She said images in campaigns should also be used strategically.
"Those with lived experience tell us that images featuring drug paraphernalia can act as a trigger, resulting in the desire to use and causing more harm," she said.
Instead, she said advertisements focused on skills and strategies to cope with a threat are found to be more effective.
She said data shows most of those who have died in B.C. were using drugs alone and health authorities and service providers have targeted their strategies accordingly.
"In the long run, compassion and support, including prescribed medical treatment where appropriate, will be much more effective in turning this crisis around than fear and shame," she said in the statement.
Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding the chief coroner's statement.