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Reducing dependency on opioid painkillers

Creative behaviour change campaign to raise awareness of pain medication dependency and reduce prescription rates. Campaign developed for two main audiences: health practitioners and the general public.

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Tackling pain medication and opioid dependency

Painkillers Don’t Exist is a behaviour change campaign to raise awareness of pain medication dependency and reduce prescription rates. Tackling the spectrum of opioid use – from low level use to addiction – the campaign combines awareness raising with educational resources supporting people with alternative pain management.

The campaign has two main audiences. In addition to supporting patients and their families, the campaign offers resources to help GPs, Practice Managers, Pharmacists and Physios in their conversations with patients.

2019 - Present

North East and North Cumbria ICB, Leeds Health and Care Partnership, NHS East of England region

Scope of work

  • Campaign development & activation
  • Co-production, engagement and community representation
  • Lived experience storytelling
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Training and toolkit development
  • UX and website development

What we did

Painkillers Don’t Exist raises awareness of the issues and dangers surrounding long-term use of high-dose, opioid pain medication, and educates and supports people about pain management.

The campaign has been designed to allow those who are addicted to painkillers to feel empowered to seek support, and those prescribing to grow in confidence to suggest alternative recovery plans in order to reduce the number of the painkillers prescribed.

Magpie co-created and developed this cut-through campaign brand and core messages, informed by behavioural science and the COM-B model for behaviour change.

Initially launched in Sunderland, Painkillers was developed following insight with GPs and patients in the region to gain a more thorough understanding of the issues and the impact of painkiller addiction on real-life people.

The campaign focus is predominantly on primary care and its patients. Information and resources, along with campaign materials, support GPs, Practice Managers, pharmacists, physios and also includes patient-facing material.

The campaign used a range of methods to reach the target public audience including:

  • Innovative affordable PR stunts such as sand art and pavement graffiti, with the PR reaching national media
  • Digital media such as animations, social media graphics and a targeted messaging campaign
  • Newsletters and posters in GP practices
  • A website updated with information and lived experience case studies at

Campaign impact

Significantly reducing opioid prescriptions and transforming health communications.


reduction in high-dose opioid prescriptions across the North East and North Cumbria. This takes the total number of people prescribed high-dose opioids from 8,256 to 3,804 across the area (as of January 2024).

80,000 +

page views since campaign launch


reduction in opioid prescriptions in Durham


“The work we’ve done with Magpie has been transformational. Not just in the individual projects and the effects on the population we serve, but on the whole philosophy of medicines use and improving outcomes. Healthcare can’t be managed or mandated through a guideline, a document or a webinar. Quality healthcare comes from understanding the people and the communities and the things that drive behaviour. Magpie helped us realise that and gave us the insights to design and deliver our strategic approach.”

Ewan Maule
Director of Medicines and Pharmacy
North East and North Cumbria NHS

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