Author Archives: Andrew Harrison

This Is Your Brain

Jun 20, 2014, 12:30 AM, Posted by Andrew Harrison

In 1990, RWJF refined its grantmaking goals to three strategies:

  • Assure that Americans of all ages have access to basic health care
  • Improve the way services are organized and provided to people with chronic health conditions, and
  • Promote health and prevent disease by reducing harm caused by substance abuse.

The Foundation had studied the issue of substance abuse for several years. In fact, RWJF’s first venture into this field was Fighting Back, a national program aimed at creating community-based solutions to reducing the use of illegal drugs.

RWJF Trustee James E. Burke played a vital role in helping to craft the Foundation’s grantmaking strategies to reduce substance abuse. In 1989, Burke became chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA). That same year, the Foundation issued its first grant to the PDFA, and this support continued through 2009. Today, PDFA operates as the Partnership at Drugfree.org.

During the two decades of RWJF funding, PDFA conducted national media campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of substance abuse. Public Service Announcements (PSA) served as one of its primary methods to curb drug use.

Arguably, PDFA’s most effective and memorable PSA was its 1987 ad called “Frying Pan.” The PSA shows an actor named John Roselius holding an egg in his sparsely furnished apartment. He announces that the egg represents a persons’ brain. He picks up a frying pan, and adds: “This is drugs.” He cracks the egg into the pan. Its contents quickly fry. He then delivers the powerful punch line: “This is your brain on drugs.” The ad concludes with the famous tagline: “Any questions?”

This Is Your Brain on Heroin

RWJF did not provide funding for the “Frying Pan” PSA, but Foundation funds did help produce its memorable 1997 sequel. In this version, actress Rachael Leigh Cook also holds an egg in her hand, once again symbolizing a human brain. The frying pan represents heroin. Cook places the egg on a kitchen counter. And then she declares: “This is what happens to your brain after snorting heroin.” The actress violently smashes the egg, wielding the pan like a cast iron cudgel. As she lifts the pan, the egg drips down over her hand and the pan.

It’s not over yet, as Cook makes all too clear. What follows is harrowing, a long string of violent declarations as she smashes everything in the kitchen—wine glasses, the ceiling lamp, the wall clock ... everything.

“This is what your body goes through! And this is what your family goes through! And your friends! And your money! And your job! And your self-respect! And your future!”

“And,” she adds, “your life.”

And once again, at the end, the chilling and memorable catchphrase: “Any questions?”

To this day, we possess an unusual but much appreciated token of appreciation for our two decades of funding for the PDFA. It’s a replica of the frying pan used in the Partnership’s ads. It’s even framed.

It’s hard to imagine a national Culture of Health that does not take into account the toll that drugs take on Americans every day. And not just the lives of vulnerable people dragged down by drug abuse, but the culture of crime and violence that can also short-circuit the lives and futures of so many young people involved in the sale of drugs. And that’s not to mention the deleterious impact on the health of the surrounding community.

And so that frying pan serves as a constant reminder that the work to improve the lives of so many vulnerable people and to improve and enhance the health of whole neighborhoods is still far from over.

Any questions?

Andrew R. Harrison is the Foundation's historian.