Pubdate: Tue, 12 Feb 2002
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: HE01
Copyright: 2002 The Washington Post Company
Author: Abigail Trafford
Bookmark: (ONDCP Media Campaign)
Bookmark: (Terrorism)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Youth)
Bookmark: (Drug Education)


Who could forget those Patriots at the Super Bowl - Rah! Rah! Rah! Or those 
patriotic anti-drug commercials between plays - Rah! Rah! Rah! "Where do 
terrorists get their money?" asked one ad. "If you buy drugs, some of it 
might come from you."

This is the latest ad campaign from the White House: To fight the war on 
drugs is to fight the war on terrorism. The implication is that people who 
use illegal drugs are supporting the likes of Osama bin Laden. They are 
aiding the enemies of the United States. They risk becoming not just drug 
addicts but traitors, too.

"It's important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances 
the work of terror, sustaining terrorists, that terrorists use drug profits 
to fund their cells to commit acts of murder," says President Bush on the 
Web site for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "If 
you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America."

Our world has changed since Sept. 11. But this brand of medical jingoism is 
deeply disturbing. I'm all for imaginative prevention campaigns that 
educate youngsters on the dangers of drugs. The country needs effective 
programs that discourage use and persuade people to stop.

And - call me a mush - I love my country. I want to stand up and be counted 
in the national effort to combat terrorists who target Americans and wish 
to destroy the United States. But I'm wary of using the war on terror as a 
Trojan horse for other political agendas.

Mixing the old war on drugs with the new war on terrorism is a stretch. 
It's hard to see any link, say, between American teenagers trying Ecstasy 
and foreign terrorists attacking the World Trade Center. To put them under 
the same patriotic umbrella diminishes the hard realities of both kinds of 

"You undermine the credibility of anti-drug campaigns by exaggerating the 
dangers," says Peter Reuter, professor of public policy at the University 
of Maryland and co-author of "Drug War Heresies: Learning From Other Vices, 
Times, and Places."

"The nation is appropriately alarmed about terrorism," he continues, but 
"if the connection isn't there, you're degrading the credibility of 
anti-drug programs."

The $10 million ad campaign is aimed at shaking up teenagers. "It's 
important not to overreach," says Tom Riley, communications director of the 
White House office. "If we can give them another reason not to do drugs, 
that helps people in other countries as well as people in our country."

But it is an overreach. The link is weak even in Afghanistan. To be sure, 
the country that harbored bin Laden and his terrorist network has long been 
a fertile source of drugs. In 1999, Afghanistan produced more than 70 
percent of the world's opium. But very little makes its way to the United 
States. The bulk - about 90 percent - ends up in Europe. So it's not likely 
that a heroin addict in Detroit is aiding poppy growers in Afghanistan, let 
alone abetting al Qaeda terrorists planning attacks in the United States.

Besides, our allies in Afghanistan - the warlords of the Northern Alliance 
- - are themselves big-time narco-traffickers who have lived high off the 
poppy seed. With the Taliban gone, farmers are once again planting their 
crops, according to news reports. Taking the logic of the Super Bowl ads to 
an absurd extreme, you might say: "Keep using illegal drugs. You're 
supporting the team that toppled the Taliban!"

The closest connection between drugs and political violence is in Colombia, 
the world's primary source of cocaine. As the script in one full-page 
newspaper ad put it: "Last weekend, I washed my car, hung out with a few 
friends, and helped murder a family in Colombia. . . . C'mon. It was a party."

But the terror described here is not the bin Laden brand of political 
terrorism that is aimed at destroying the United States. It is old- 
fashioned criminal terror that rules a violent underworld of illegal 
activities with nasty, ruthless outlaws who corrupt and destabilize 
governments. These Mafia-style groups need to be dealt with. But blaming a 
teenager who uses drugs at a party for a murder in Colombia is like blaming 
a gin-drinking youngster during Prohibition for a gangland slaying in Chicago.

What's more, teen use of cocaine has plummeted since its peak in the 
mid-1980s, further weakening the link between drug use in the United States 
and drug-related murder in other countries.

There are good reasons to make kids responsible for their behavior when it 
comes to risky activities involving drugs, alcohol and sex. There are also 
good reasons why the United States wants to help clean up the international 
underworld that trafficks in drugs and sex slaves and the like.

But neither need the political seal of approval of the country's war on 
terrorism. One young woman looked at the newspaper ad and dismissed it with 

Public health messages work best when they are based on science, not 
advocacy. There is indeed a new threat in the country's war on drugs. It's 
not terror, but Ecstasy, the "love drug" popular among some teenagers.

Its use by teens has increased more than 70 percent in three years, 
according to a national survey released yesterday by the Partnership for a 
Drug-Free America. Today, more than 12 percent of teenagers have used 
Ecstasy - a higher proportion than have used methamphetamine, LSD, cocaine 
or heroin.

To educate teenagers and parents on the dangers of Ecstasy, the Partnership 
has launched a nationwide media blitz of television and print 
advertisements. All the information was reviewed for accuracy by the 
National Institute on Drug Abuse. One ad features the story of Danielle 
Heird, 21, from Las Vegas, who died in an Ecstasy-related death. Her 
parents appear in the ad to talk about their daughter.

"You never go wrong with realism," says Steve Dnistrian, executive vice 
president of the Partnership.

Whether it's the war on drugs or the war on terrorism, reality sells.
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