Pubdate: Tue, 05 Sep 2006
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2006 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: Richard Powelson
Bookmark: (Walters, John)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Study Finds Marijuana Use Down By Knoxville, Lexington

Regional and national surveys, including one tracking Knoxville
students, differ on whether the federal anti-drug ad campaign over
several years helped reduce illegal drug use among youths.

A recent analysis by the U.S. Government Accountability Office looked
at a national survey by a contractor, Westat Inc., and concluded that
there was "credible evidence" that a national TV, radio and print
campaign "was not effective in reducing youth drug use" from 1998 to
2004. About $1.2 billion was spent during those years, GAO found.

By contrast, a four-year regional survey of Knoxville and Lexington,
Ky., students in grades four to 12 found that the ad campaign
targeting marijuana use in portions of 2002 and 2003 had a significant
effect on youths. In that period, the percent of frequent substance
abusers reporting marijuana use in the past 30 days dropped from about
18 percent to 13 percent, the study found.

The latter study, conducted by faculty at the University of Kentucky,
Texas A&M and Duke, did random, confidential surveys each month with
100 Knoxville students and 100 Lexington students, according to Philip
Palmgreen, a researcher at UK's communications department. The study
ran from April 1999 through March 2003, involving nearly 10,000
students, and located cooperative students by telephone who later
completed a confidential survey at their homes on a laptop computer.

"The great majority of students remembered seeing the anti-drug public
service announcements frequently throughout the campaign," Palmgreen
said in an interview.

GAO recommended that Congress cut funding on the ad campaign, which is
costing about $100 million this year, until the White House drug
control office can prove it is effective in reducing drug abuse.

Two U.S. House members from East Tennessee supported part or all of
the ad campaign's work.

Knoxville Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. said anti-drug TV and radio
advertising "if aimed at the right groups, could be very effective and
very helpful. I'm sure in favor of spending whatever we need to spend
to fight the drug problem based on what I've seen."

Duncan is a former Knox County Criminal Court judge who said many
young people came before him charged with drug violations or other
crimes. Often the young people came from a fatherless home, he said.

Both Duncan and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a Chattanooga Republican, praised
the part of the campaign that urges parents to communicate regularly
with their children on reasons for not abusing drugs. Both are parents.

"Parents have a very important role," Duncan said.

Wamp said he and one of his sons have watched some anti-drug
commercials and did not think they were very effective. He said he
would like more study on whether they are achieving the desired results.

The investment in the ad campaigns is very important, he said, whether
it is about alcohol abuse or other drug abuse. At this point, however,
"I'm not sure that the money is well spent." Some commercials "make
drugs look mysterious or interesting or even cool. I think they have
to be careful in these ads of being too cool or too cute with the kids."

Wamp favorably recalled Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign. "It
made its way to a slogan at the dinner table. Everybody knew what it
was. I don't think that these (current) ads permeate our culture."

The White House's drug czar, John Walters, said the national survey by
Westat had multiple flaws, is two years old, and does not include
improvements in recent ad campaigns.

Other national surveys have found significant reductions in drug
abuse, Walters said in a written response to the GAO study. One study
documented a 19 percent decline in illegal drug use among eighth-,
10th- and 12th-graders during the last four years, he said.

Cutting the budget of the national anti-drug ad campaign "could have
far-reaching and unfavorable consequences," Walters warned. Mass media
and popular culture with a pro-drug message need a counter message, he

In grades K-12 in Knox County schools, officials still are processing
a drug survey of students from last year, said Marty Iroff, an
administrator of student services that include drug and violence prevention.

Schools, parents and the federal government have roles in helping
youths avoid drugs, he said. An ad campaign can help in the combined
effort, he said.

"I'm scared for the drug prevention world if the federal government
starts to cut back on their monies," Iroff said. "That's a major concern.

"As soon as you turn your back on it, it tends to blow up again. I
definitely think that adults, parents for sure, need to be more
involved with youth at all levels."
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