Media Campaign on Prevention of Illegal Drug Use Expands to Promote Treatment

Continuation of media campaigns to reduce demand for illegal drugs and broaden awareness of treatment

Field of Work: Substance abuse prevention media campaign.

Problem Synopsis: Use patterns for nearly all illegal drugs, ranging from marijuana to heroin. Changes in drug use are linked closely to perceptions of risk and disapproval. As consumers come to view drug use as riskier and increasingly disapprove of drugs, consumption declines. The opposite also holds true. The media plays a large role in shaping youth perceptions about risk.

Synopsis of the Work: From 1997 to 2006, with three grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America worked with advertising agencies, media companies and experts in the field of substance abuse on media campaigns to curb teen demand for drugs that emerged as a growing problem in the 1990s. Beginning in 1998, the partnership also served as the primary supplier of creative content and was a strategic advisor to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a $929 million initiative of the federal government to reduce adolescent use of marijuana and inhalants.

Key Results:

  • Each year from 1999 to 2004, the partnership coordinated the development and production of 60–75 television, radio and print ads for the federal anti-drug campaign.
  • Outside the federal campaign, the partnership launched new anti-drug initiatives focused on inhalants, Ecstasy, methamphetamines, steroids and over-the-counter medications such as cough syrup.
  • Expanding beyond its original focus on drug prevention, the partnership launched two campaigns for teens who were already experimenting with or addicted to drugs.

Key Findings: The partnership sponsored a survey that examined changes in teens' behaviors and attitudes toward marijuana and other drugs during the grant period. It found:

  • The percentage of teens who had ever tried marijuana declined from 41 percent in 1998 to 37 percent in 2005. The percentage of teens who had used it in the previous year or the previous month also declined.
  • The percentage of teens who saw great risk in more dangerous drugs increased from 1998 to 2005.
  • Use of Ecstasy declined from 12 percent of teens in 2001 to 8 percent in 2005.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded an evaluation that looked exclusively at the impact of the federal National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign from 1999 to 2004. The final evaluation reported that:

  • Some 72 percent of parents and 77 percent of youth recalled exposure to campaign anti-drug messages.
  • The campaign had a positive effect on parents' beliefs and behaviors about talking to their children about drugs.
  • Exposure to the campaign did not appear to have a direct influence on marijuana use by adolescents, despite their recall and favorable assessments of advertisements.

The University of Michigan's annual Monitoring the Future survey (funded by NIDA) also showed significant declines in teen substance abuse, for example, a 28 percent decline in 8th, 10th and 12th grade use of illicit drugs between 1996 and 2007.