New Graphic Novel Heightens Awareness of Prescription Opioid Addiction 

“Jackie’s Pain,” the USC Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences’ latest health literacy publication, explains the risks of prescription opioid addiction.

The comic-book-style graphic novel is the 11th publication in the popular health literacy series created by longtime faculty member Mel Baron, PharmD ’57, and producer Gregory B. Molina, combining health information with dramatic storytelling and illustrations. Published in both Spanish and English, the booklet was designed to be distributed in the community at safety-net clinics, health fairs, pharmacies and other locations.

It tells the story of Jackie, whose adult son Luis becomes addicted to opioids after finding old prescription painkillers that Jackie had not discarded after recovering from knee surgery.

Jackie begins going to a support group for parents of addicted children as well as meditating to manage stress. She learns how to use naloxone in case her son has another overdose, and encourages him to try a support group.

Written and directed by Gabriela López de Dennis, illustrated by Los Angeles graphic design firm TinyTeam LLC and designed by Soap Studio Inc., the graphic novel covers fentanyl, sharing opioids prescribed by a doctor, and how to safely dispose of unused or expired opioids. It also addresses what naloxone is and how to use it, getting help for opioid use disorder, and safer ways to get relief from pain.

Timely information about drug-related dangers

Veronica Esparza, a promotora with Clínica Romero, distributes a copy of “Jackie’s Pain,” USC Mann’s latest health literacy publication, about the risks of prescription opioid addiction. (Photo by Isaac Mora)

The graphic novel comes at a time when the number of drug overdose deaths has quintupled since 1999, and increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 75% of the 91,799 drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid.

“We hear a lot of questions from parents about what to look for as far as opioid addiction and the booklets are extremely well made,” says Elaine Di Simone, outpatient/substance use disorder program director at Clínica Romero, a federally qualified health center where trained community leaders called promotoras are distributing the publication to local, at-risk populations. “These are very helpful for our parents of our youth program.”

Numerous experts on pain management and addiction, preventive medicine and health literacy—including Baron, Jennifer B. Unger, PhD, Siddarth Puri, MD, Aurora Geysimonyan, MPH, Edward Padilla, Melissa Durham, PharmD and Gene Lang, PharmD—served as script consultants.

“Especially today with so much misinformation, we want the appropriate information to reach the public,” Baron says. “Packing expert advice in an entertaining format helps ensure the public health message gets through. Our graphic novels fulfill a vital need by reaching underserved communities and educating patients about drug-related dangers. It’s part of what pharmacy is all about.”

The project was supported by the USC Mann School, UniHealth Foundation, USC Good Neighbors Campaign, L.A. CARE Health Plan, Keck Medicine of USC, and Beit T’Shuvah, a residential addiction recovery center whose leadership, staff and clients provided insights and contributions to the development of the publication.

For more information about printing and licensing “Jackie’s Pain” and other publications in the series, please contact Mel Baron at mbaron@usc.edu.