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Advertising campaign with local roots seeks to shake shame of addiction, encourage compassion

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The U.S. Surgeon General made it official last year.

In November 2016, Dr. Vivek Murthy declared addiction as an illness, rather than a conscious decision made by individuals. A new social media ad campaign, which originates in the Kansas City metro, embodies that spirit, and encourages sympathy for drug and alcohol addicts.

The first step is to remove the shame. A new ad campaign for the Kansas City addiction center First Call explains that addiction isn't a choice, and drug and alcohol addicts deserve the same compassion as patients suffering from other conditions.

"Why buddy? You were doing so good," one actor in the spots can be overheard saying, addressing a family member stricken with cancer. That actor speaks in the same tone many addicts complain they hear from concerned loved ones.

"I think addiction's been around for a long time," John Godsey, creative director with Kansas City ad firm VML, the agency that designed the ads, said on Wednesday.

Godsey speaks from experience. He's a recovering addict, who says he's been clean and sober for 12 years. At one point, Godsey says he partied with celebrities, and was burning through $500 per day worth of booze and cocaine.

"We just wanted to show how wrong it is to treat an addict with shame," Godsey told FOX 4 News.

Another of the campaign's ads portrays a Parkinson's patient shaking as she attempts to serve dinner to her family. Another actor is seen condemning her illness, saying she's an embarrassment, dialogue meant to challenge the viewer to compare that situation to dealing with an addict.

"One in seven of your Facebook friends are most likely an addict, an active addict. The chances of them not seeking help are very high," Godsey said.

First Call, which makes its office at State Line Road and 90th Street, says thousands of addicts live in the Kansas City Metro. That company services hundreds of people come for addiction-based issues, but there are legions more who don't seek help.

"So many families are suffering," Susan Whitmore, First Call's president and CEO, told FOX 4 News.

"It's a chronic and progressive disease that, if it's left untreated, it can be fatal. We also know, from the research, the good news is, treatment works."

Godsey complains there are too many addicts being sent to prison, where recovery and compassion are harder to find. He says society has to shed the opinion that addiction is somehow a moral shortcoming.

Those public service announcements, which debuted on Wednesday, will be seen on social media channels.

A 2015 study at Columbia University reported 40 million Americans are addicted to drugs and alcohol.