More can be done in war on drugs

May 01, 2001|By Jim Williams

EVER SINCE the Ravens won the Super Bowl, many from the Baltimore area have shouted, "We're No. 1!" Now that the heavyweight champion of the world calls Baltimore home, we're really standing proud.

Unfortunately, Baltimore also is No. 1 on the list of cities with heroin problems and No. 1 in cases of drug-related HIV infection. These are problems Super Bowl and heavyweight champions can't erase, but we can deal them a significant blow by reducing the demand for illegal drugs. Remarkably, spending just $8 per teen per year can help.

The average kid today is offered drugs for the first time by the age of 12. Roughly one of every four teens in America has used an illegal drug in the past month.

But after years of steady increases, teen drug use has declined since 1998. Teen attitudes about drugs have changed markedly for the better, suggesting even greater declines in drug use ahead. Something good is happening, and it needs to be preserved.

In 1998, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign was launched with bipartisan support from Congress. This program uses federal funds to buy prime broadcast time and print space for anti-drug ads created by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Historically, such efforts had to beg media companies to run anti-drug ads for free. Now they're paid to run them, guaranteeing consistent exposure in the right media to deliver messages to the kids who need them most.

These ads are created by some of the best minds in advertising. The same people who sell sneakers and jeans through advertising are using their creativity to persuade kids to reject drugs, and it's working. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health found teens exposed to heavy doses of anti-drug ads are 26.7 percent less likely to use marijuana.

This year, Congress allocated $185 million - about 1 percent of the federal anti-drug budget - to the Office of National Drug Control Policy to administer the campaign. With 23.6 million teens in America, that's just $7.84 per teen. Given the results, this is the most cost-effective investment our government has ever made to prevent drug abuse.

Since the campaign launched, an estimated 1 million fewer kids have experimented with drugs. No one can say the campaign is solely responsible for this major change, but exposure to more anti-drug ads is correlated with stronger anti-drug attitudes: Fully 63 percent of teens who see anti-drug ads daily believe marijuana will make their problems worse, versus 56 percent of teens who see anti-drug ads less than once a week.

While congressional funding for the effort has stayed constant since 1998, the cost of placing these ads is up by 45 percent. To ensure anti-drug messages maintain their impact, to counter inflation and to address the rise in Ecstasy use, more funding is needed.

While many clamor for tax cuts, the public is solidly behind this program; 83 percent of Americans say Congress should keep the current level of funding for the campaign. Nearly half - 45 percent - think it's a good idea to invest even more. Americans may want lower taxes, but not at the expense of protecting future generations.

Anti-drug ads alone won't solve the drug problem. Parents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders and other community members all need to deliver the message to kids about the risks of drugs.

But we need to continue tapping the enormous influence mass media has on teens. Spending $8 a year per teen is a good start. Let's spend $10 and really be champions of the cause.

Jim Williams is associate director of the Center for Communication Programs at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.