August 30, 2006
Anti-Drug Media Campaign Deemed Ineffective
"This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs."
Although the eternal image of the commercial featuring an egg splattered in the frying pan, meant to symbolize the sizzling gray matter of America's drug-addicted youth, might be forever etched on the collective memories of adults, some public service announcements might have been wasted on the minds of the nation's younger generations.
According the United States Accountability Office, although Congress appropriated over $1.2 billion to the Office of National Drug Control Policy between 1998 and 2004 for a highly touted National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign aimed at preventing and curtailing the use of drugs among young people, the results were less than spectacular.
A multi-year evaluation conducted by contractor Westat, Inc., concluded that the campaign did not reduce youth drug use nationally. Therefore, the GAO has determined that Congress should consider limiting appropriations for the campaign, beginning in the 2007 fiscal year, until the ONDCP can present an approach that's significantly more effective.
Westat's findings were conclusive both for the study as a whole and for a period when the campaign was directed solely at marijuana use. The company collected data based on multiple observations on the same individuals over time.
Although both young people and parents were able to recall specific advertising campaigns, Westat maintains that the announcements did not deter drug use and may, in fact, have led young people to believe that 'other' drug use was normal," said the GAO report.
Furthermore, parents' exposure to the ad spots did "not appear to lead to increase monitoring of youth" and the evaluation was unable to demonstrate that changes in parental attitudes led to changes in the attitudes of their children.
Although the GAO maintains "the Westat study is sound," the ONDCP's written comments disagreed with the findings.
Kym Laube, director of Westhampton Beach's Human Understanding and Growth Seminars (HUGS) programs, said the problem of teen alcohol and drug use runs deep in today's society. "The alcohol industry targets these kids and bombards them with messages all the time. And as much counter information as we can give, the better. A couple of public service announcements now and then is not going to be effective."
Advertisers, said Laube, do not make it easy for educators and concerned adults to step in and take a stand. "The Super Bowl is the single event on television that is watched by the most kids," she said. "It is also the biggest advertiser for alcohol. And the two things alcohol advertisers use are the two things that we know are most influential with kids — animals and humor."
Laube's HUGS program on Shelter Island is aimed at teaching teens about alcohol and drug prevention.
The way to get to the heart of the problem, said Laube, is by reaching out to kids at risk. "It's about connecting the kids to something they feel has value," she said.