Pubdate: Thu, 07 Sep 2006
Source: Slate (US Web)
Copyright: 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC
Author: Ryan Grim
Note: The Westat/GAO report is available as a 72 page .pdf file at
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Sitting on the Negative Results of a Study of Anti-Marijuana Ads.

Since 1998, the federal government has spent more than $1.4 billion 
on an ad campaign aimed primarily at dissuading teens from using 
marijuana. You've seen the ads--high on pot, stoners commit a host of 
horrible acts, including running over a little girl on a bike at a 
drive-through. Or a kid sits in the hospital with his fist stuck in his mouth.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the 
National Institute on Drug Abuse, the arm of the federal government 
that funds research on drug abuse and addiction, partnered to study 
the ad campaign's effectiveness. The White House provided the funding 
and NIDA contracted with a research firm, Westat, which gathered data 
between November 1999 and June 2004. The report Westat produced cost 
the government $42.7 million. It shows that the ad campaign isn't 
working, as the Associated Press reported in late August. Instead of 
reducing the likelihood that kids would smoke marijuana, the ads 
increased it. Westat found that "greater exposure to the campaign was 
associated with weaker anti-drug norms and increases in the 
perceptions that others use marijuana." More exposure to the ads led 
to higher rates of first-time drug use among certain groups, like 14- 
to 16-year-olds and white kids.

Five years and $43 million to show that a billion-dollar ad campaign 
doesn't work? That's bad. But perhaps worse, and as yet unreported, 
NIDA and the White House drug office sat on the Westat report for a 
year and a half beginning in early 2005--while spending $220 million 
on the anti-marijuana ads in fiscal years 2005 and 2006.

NIDA dated Westat's report as "delivered" in June 2006. In fact, it 
was delivered in February 2005, according to the Government 
Accountability Office, the federal watchdog agency charged with 
reviewing the study. In the time that has elapsed since, the White 
House justified the $220 million ongoing expenditure on the campaign 
on the grounds that the campaign was being scientifically evaluated.

The GAO's Nancy Kingsbury, managing director for applied research and 
methods, says her agency encountered serious resistance from NIDA and 
the White House when it insisted that it was entitled and mandated by 
Congress to review the publicly funded Westat study. The GAO has 
company in its frustration: In July of this year, the Senate 
subcommittee that oversees federal drug funding vented in general 
about secrecy and lack of cooperation by the White House drug office.

When news of the Westat results finally broke last month, the White 
House argued that the study should be ignored because the data are 
now more than two years old. But the results of the study are in line 
with other research that casts doubt on the impact of drug education. 
So far, at least, it appears to be pretty much impossible to warn 
kids away from drugs with an ad campaign, no matter how cautious or 
nuanced an approach you take. Talking about drugs seems to give 
enough kids the idea of trying them that drug education efforts 
regularly backfire.

Perhaps the most well-known drug-education effort is the DARE program 
that sends cops into schools to scare children away from drugs. Major 
studies have shown that it has no effect on whether a child will use 
drugs. A youth drug-prevention program called ALERT was found to be 
equally ineffective by a 1993 study. A project in Montana that sought 
to reduce methamphetamine use by plastering the state with gruesome 
photos of the consequences of addiction backfired; it's associated 
with an increase in use and a decrease in the perception of the risk 
of using meth. If the White House is serious about reducing teen 
marijuana use, it might stop hiding the results of its own studies 
and start employing a time-tested method of behavioral control 
designed by parents: Stop talking about P-O-T.


 From a 2003 Government Executive magazine report: "Last year, after 
Drug Czar Walters promised in Senate testimony that he would show 
results within a year or admit failure, Congress agreed to extend the 
campaign through 2003 while cutting funding for the ads from $170 
million in 2002 to $150 million [in 2003]."


The privately bankrolled "Not Even Once" campaign plastered grotesque 
photos of purported addicts on billboards around the state. Six 
months into the campaign, teens reported a significant drop in their 
perception of the drug's risk. The number who saw no risk in trying 
it once or using it regularly climbed from 3 percent to 8 percent.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake