February 2007

Grant Results

SUMMARY

Staff at MTV: Music Television created "Choose or Lose: Drug Wars," a 30-minute show that explored how the intersection of drug addiction, drug abuse and the justice system impacts young people.

The show, which premiered on MTV in October 2004. was one of 16 original programs in MTV's "Choose or Lose" series, which aired prior to the 2004 elections.

Key Results

  • The program profiled young people who have used or dealt drugs and explored the consequences that current drug laws and policies have had on their lives. Among those profiled were:
    • Demetrius, a 17-year-old who had been living on the streets and selling drugs to get by because he couldn't live at home with his crack-addicted mother.
    • Tricia, a 34-year-old single mom and heroine addict who got clean and sober after court-supervised treatment.
    • Robert, a 23-year-old drug dealer with two young children facing a 10-year prison sentence for selling crack cocaine to support his family.
  • More than 2 million viewers watched the show's premiere on October 18, 2004, according to Nielsen Media Research. After four subsequent broadcasts, the total number of viewers exceeded 9 million.

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided $50,000 to develop the show between October 2004 and April 2005. The Center for Public Interest Research, a non-profit organization founded by state public interest research groups (PIRGs), served as fiscal intermediary for this grant.

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THE PROBLEM

Young people between the ages of 16 and 29 account for 75 percent of the nearly 23 million Americans addicted to alcohol and other drugs, according to the 2002 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

People in this age group have significant misperceptions about drug use and abuse, and they remain largely uninformed about the impact of state and federal drug policies. Nevertheless, young people consistently say that drug use and drug addiction are some of the most important issues facing people their age today, according to research conducted by MTV.

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THE PROJECT

MTV created "Choose or Lose: Drug Wars," a 30-minute show that explored how the intersection of drug addiction, drug abuse and the justice system impacts young people. The show was one of 16 original programs in the "Choose or Lose" series, which contributed to MTV's national nonpartisan voter education and registration campaign called Choose Or Lose: 20 Million Loud.

The campaign sought to mobilize 20 million 18-to-30-year-olds to vote in the 2004 election. RWJF funds were used exclusively for the production of the "Choose or Lose: Drug Wars" program and did not otherwise support any voter registration activities.

The program explored the consequences that drug laws and policies can have on people who have used or dealt drugs. RWJF's major reason for funding this program was that it drew attention to its national program Reclaiming Futures®: Communities Helping Teens Overcome Drugs, Alcohol & Crime and one youth in particular, Demetrius, who was at the time in Treatment Court as an alternative to jail time.

Demetrius had been living on the streets, selling drugs to get by because he couldn't live at home with his crack-addicted mother. At 15 he had spent nine months in jail, and by 17 he had a longer arrest record than school record. Treatment Court provided treatment and counseling for his drug problem (including urine testing) and counseling for the underlying emotional issues involving his mother and her addiction. It holds him and the other youths accountable for their behavior.

Among others profiled were:

  • Tricia, a 34-year-old single mom and heroine addict who got clean and sober through Drug Court, where she went to daily group therapy, was urine tested three times a week for drugs and took a breathalyzer every morning to check for alcohol. If she stays clean for 18 months, her drug conviction will be wiped away.
  • Tiffany, an 18-year-old heroin addict who turned to drugs to cope with her mother's murder. With Treatment Court, she had been clean and sober for a year.
  • Ashley, a 23-year-old drug dealer facing a 7 to 21 year prison sentence for selling 70 grams of cocaine to college students who were used by the police as part of a sting operation; up until that time Ashley says he had never sold more than a gram.
  • Robert, a 23-year-old drug dealer with two young children facing a 10-year prison sentence for selling crack cocaine to support his family.
  • Emily, a 23-year-old mother who is barred from receiving federal student aid for college as a result of a previous conviction for growing and selling marijuana.

By profiling young people in different parts of the country, the program hoped to present examples of "real people" to whom the MTV audience could relate.

"Choose or Lose: Drug Wars" also educated viewers about the differences and similarities in the drug control policies of presidential candidates President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry. The show encouraged viewers to take action by researching state and local politicians' stances on drug treatment programs and by visiting the "Choose or Lose" section of MTV's Web site to learn more so that those voting could make an informed decision on Election Day.

More than 2 million viewers watched the show's premiere on October 18, 2004, according to Nielsen Media Research. After four subsequent broadcasts, the total number of viewers exceeded 9 million. To support and promote the show, issue-specific content was added to the "Choose or Lose" section of www.mtv.com. In the week following the premiere, the "Choose or Lose" section garnered over 438,000 page views, making it one of the top 10 sections viewed on the MTV Web site.

"Choose or Lose" programming also was evaluated for the part it played in reaching the ultimate goal of the campaign: mobilizing 20 million 18- to 30-year-olds to vote in the 2004 election year. With its partners, "Choose or Lose" far exceeded its goal with nearly 21 million 18-to 29-year-olds voting, making it the largest youth voter turnout in at least 20 years.

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AFTER THE GRANT

In 2004, the "Choose or Lose" campaign and its programming received a number of awards, including an Emmy Award, while ChooseorLose.com and a "Choose or Lose" public service announcement each received a Beacon award, which honors excellence in public affairs throughout the cable industry.

"Choose or Lose" also earned a Gold Mark, one of the top prizes at the 2005 Mark Awards, cable's premier marketing competition presented by the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing. It also was nominated for a PRISM Award from the Entertainment Industries Council, funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and RWJF (Grant ID#s 034142, 035309, 036504, 043038, 051027, 053027; see Grant Results on ID# 034142).

In 2005, MTV has incorporated aspects of the "Choose or Lose" framework into "think MTV," the network's new pro-social initiative that aims to inform and empower young people on important issues in their lives including education, discrimination, the environment, sexual health and global concerns. "think MTV," with the tagline "Reflect—Decide—Do," resides on-air, online, and in community events across the country.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Special Episode of MTV's Choose or Lose on Substance Use and Addiction Among Young Adults

Grantee

Center for Public Interest Research (Boston,  MA)

  • Amount: $ 50,000
    Dates: October 2004 to April 2005
    ID#:  051671

Contact

Chad Boettcher
(212) 846-4086
chad.boettcher@mtvstaff.com

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Articles

Master, Maggie. "Mandatory Sentencing Crowds Jails, But Still Isn't A Big Campaign Issue." www.mtv.com, October 18 2004.

Audio-Visuals and Computer Software

MTV "Choose or Lose: Drug Wars," a 30-minute show that explores how the intersection of drug addiction, drug abuse and the justice system impacts young people, particularly in the context of the 2004 presidential election. New York: MTV: Music Television, Aired on MTV October 18, 2004.

World Wide Web Sites

www.mtv.com/chooseorlose (no longer available). Web site created to support MTV's broader Choose or Lose campaign—an effort to mobilize 20 million voters, between the ages of 18 and 30, and provide relevant information about the 2004 presidential election and issues that concern young voters. New York: MTV: Music Television. MTV also linked with www.reclaimingfutures.org during the relevant time of the program.

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Report prepared by: Elizabeth Heid Thompson
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Dwayne C. Proctor

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