Pubdate: Wed, 09 Dec 2015
Source: Seattle Weekly (WA)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Michael A. Stusser


The "Just Say No" campaign kept me off drugs.

NOT! Still, I appreciate Nancy Reagan for using ignorant scare 
tactics to at least try to keep kids like me away from the Devil's 
Lettuce. Drugs are for adults, and having a dialogue about that 
notion is important.

The conversation does not, however, require a sizzling egg to 
represent your brain on drugs.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education campaigns, aka DARE, were all the 
rage in the 1980s and '90s, sucking up hundreds of millions of tax 
dollars on TV spots, branded backpacks, stickers, and even cartoons 
featuring Daren the Lion. At its peak, the program was deployed in 75 
percent of American schools, with police officers leading classroom 
discussions and assemblies that students absolutely loved-not because 
of the content, but because it got us out of math class.

According to dozens of published studies, not only was the DARE 
program expensive (costing more than $200 million in 1995 alone), 
but, most important, it didn't work. Kids didn't say no, and worse, 
the DARE challenge often had a "boomerang effect"-it made young 
people more curious about the forbidden fruit, and actually 
correlated to higher rates of drug use for those exposed to the program.

This isn't to say that tax dollars shouldn't go into campaigns 
informing young people about the ongoing dangers of many street 
drugs. Adolescents are presented with all kinds of truly terrifying 
choices these days, with marijuana being the least of a parent's 
worries: popular poisons today include MDMA (Molly), K2 (or Spice), 
cough syrup, heroin, and the worst of all, the opiates found in 
prescription drugs like Vicodin, Darvon, Viagra, Adderall, and more.

In fact, campaigns should also be created to inform the general 
public about cannabis, especially as more and more states begin 
legalizing the plant.

Colorado has launched several efforts to educate (and intimidate) the 
Rocky Mountain masses, including a campaign called "Don't Be a Lab 
Rat" that placed giant steel cages all over Denver. Even barely legal 
Oregon already has an informative series called "Educate Before You 
Recreate." But here in Washington, even though tax revenue from 
cannabis sales is specifically earmarked for drug education and 
treatment, we have yet to see a public-education campaign in print or 
on the airwaves.

The Washington State Department of Health website has a link to a 
30-second radio spot stating that one out of 10 teens use marijuana, 
and that it's important to talk to your kids. Listeners are then 
referred to another site that looks like it was designed by an insane 
Reddit manager who just learned about hyperlinks. ("Kids, let's 
gather around the Learn About Marijuana website and click on the fact 
sheet sub-section about motivation! . . . Kids?")

I called the Dept. of Health and was told the staff has been 
gathering info for an outreach campaign for young people, and that a 
Request for Proposal (RFP) will be coming out soon for PR firms and 
ad agencies to pitch ideas.

Opportunity knocks!

Coming up with an appropriate and effective campaign is tough, 
especially given the audience: teenagers not only think they're 
smarter than everyone else, but they'll intentionally do stupid 
things if challenged. That's why "Just Say No" or DARE didn't work. 
("Dare me not to? I'm doing it! ") It also doesn't help that none of 
the ancient Reefer Madness was true (i.e. ganja turning our youth 
into sex-crazed zombies). Recent statistics from legal states shoot 
down more recent scare tactics as well: legalization, driving 
fatalities, domestic violence, crime, and even teen drug use itself 
have all gone down. "The problem with scare tactics, even 
technologically sophisticated ones," notes Stanford psychiatry 
professor Keith Humphreys, "is that marijuana use is too widespread a 
behavior to fool kids for long into believing that it's invariably a 
terrifying experience."

Given that young people are going to experiment with drugs (including 
alcohol and tobacco), perhaps the best we can do is bribe them into 
zero-tolerance abstinence. Seriously. With hundreds of millions in 
taxes being gathered from legalized marijuana, let's put a bunch of 
money into a Higher Ground Education Fund. Any teenager who agrees to 
be randomly drug-tested will receive a full ride to the college of 
her/his choice.

All they gotta do is simply wait . . . until they're legally allowed 
to use cannabis.

Will my idea be green-lighted?! No! But Amsterdam wasn't built in a day . . .

Funny enough, when I look at all the current public-education 
campaigns, the best is probably from the folks who began with "Just 
Say No." Today, the good folks at DARE have abandoned frying eggs and 
other fear-mongering, and gone with the only thing that makes sense. 
Called "Keepin' It Real," their newest program focuses on teaching 
students good decision-making skills- about not just drug use, but 
life in general.

With a broader message about smart choices in all aspects of their 
already overwhelming-and-hormone-saturated lives-drugs, sex, 
relationships, employment-it puts power back in the hands of 
youngsters themselves by suggesting they do their best to lead 
honest, safe, and responsible lives.

Now that's a challenge we should all DARE to take on.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom