City students get preview of anti-drug campaign Baltimore among 12 cities selected in pilot program to test ads' effectiveness

January 14, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

In a Southwest Baltimore high school auditorium yesterday, students saw the beginning of a new $195 million anti-drugs media campaign paid for by the U.S. government and promoted by the White House drug czar, Barry R. McCaffrey.

Baltimore is one of 12 cities selected for a pilot program starting tomorrow that aims to prevent and "deglamorize" drug use with sophisticated advertising techniques, according to McCaffrey,

director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

At Edmondson-Westside Senior High, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, presided at the preview of four television ads about to hit the airwaves -- part of a program that will include radio, print and Internet advertising.

In the ad that students agreed was most compelling, a teen-age girl stands alone in a kitchen holding an egg and a frying pan.

She says, "This is your brain. This is heroin. This is what happens to your brain after snorting heroin." Breaking the egg over the counter with the frying pan, she shatters everything in sight. Then she looks at the camera and asks, "Any questions?"

It produced an audible reaction from teacher Dorothy Wyatt's Spanish class. Taymond Cunningham, 18, said, "That was the most powerful and realistic. Seeing that, I would definitely think twice about using drugs."

The other ads emphasized the importance of being an adult mentor, the fact that four out of five "average kids" don't smoke marijuana, and the importance of parents' telling their children to avoid drugs.

Cummings offered statistics, noting the estimated number of drug addicts in the city is 50,000 in a population of less than 700,000. Applause broke out when Jamie Bennett, 17, asked Cummings, "What happens to people who grew up scared to tell if they snitch on drug dealers?"

After Cummings said it was possible to pass information to police without using names, she said the reporting problem is worse when loved ones are involved. Both her parents were "victims of drugs," said Jamie, a member of junior ROTC who lives with her aunt.

McCaffrey, a folksy retired four-star general, sought to counter some common myths about drug abuse, which, he said, cuts across all races and social classes.

"Seven out of 10 drug users are employed," he said.

The ads were produced free as a public service by a consortium of advertising agencies, the Partnership for a Drugfree America.

Clinton administration officials said they hoped to work out a similar "pro bono" arrangement with the three national networks or a "one for one" deal in which a free ad is aired for every paid spot of television time.

The other areas selected for the test phase are Atlanta; Boise, Idaho; Denver; Hartford, Conn.; Houston; Milwaukee; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; Sioux City, Iowa; Tucson, Ariz.; and Washington. The national media campaign will start in June in an attempt to reduce the number of drug addicts, estimated at 4 million, in the country.

After the assembly, McCaffrey said the so-called war on drugs is a misguided metaphor. "I would use the metaphor of cancer," he said. "War means you need an enemy. The afflicted aren't the enemy."

One neighborhood civic leader present at yesterday's event, Ardelia Wilson, said ads might help, but that other remedies are more important. "We need more recovery centers that treat them [addicts] for more than 28 days," she said.

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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