$1.4 billion anti-drug campaign fails

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The struggle to wage an effective war on drugs will continue after government officials recently discovered that their recent $1.4 billion anti-drug campaign failed to lure teenagers away from the illegal substances.

However, a different federal study reported that illicit drug use had fallen among those between the ages of 12 and 17-the demographic group much of the media campaign targeted.

The Government Accountability Office announced Aug. 25 that the failed campaign, which has aired since 1998, did not help reduce drug use. In some cases, the program may have actually persuaded youths that the use of illegal drugs is considered normal.

The government-backed crusade-which purchased TV time slots and radio ads that featured the slogan “the anti-drug”-were memorable to both parents and youth, but the ads did not change adolescents’ attitudes about drugs, according to a University of Pennsylvania study that used the GAO’s findings.

University of Iowa freshman Tom Flood said the media campaign had no effect on him.

“It’s a personal decision to use drugs, and no commercial is going to change my mind,” he said, adding that he and his friends often laughed at the ads because he said they were unrealistic.

But data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, show teen drug use may be slowing down.

The rate of illicit drug use has moved consistently downward since 2002, according to the report. Only 9.9 percent of those between the ages of 12 and 17 used drugs in 2005, compared with 10.6 percent in 2004 and 11.2 percent in 2003, officials reported.

Sarah Hansen, the UI Student Health Service associate director for education and Health Iowa program coordinator, lauded the number of drug-awareness opportunities on campus.

“Health Iowa provides a continuum of services from education to substance-abuse evaluation, treatment, and care,” she said.

The UI offers a drug seminar-a four-hour series attended by 220 students last year-as well as a private substance-abuse evaluation. Last year, 34 percent more students underwent the private evaluations. Health Iowa also added a marijuana-information series for low-risk pot offenders, which 56 students completed in its inaugural year. The Iowa City police know plenty of people who have had serious-or at least arrest-worthy-problems.

Police Sgt. Doug Hart said the city’s Drug Seizure Report documented 1,517 marijuana-related arrests, 176 for cocaine, 127 for crack cocaine, and 113 for methamphetamine, so far in 2006.

“Drugs are big in America,” said Travis Blanken, a 20-year-old Iowa City resident and self-proclaimed drug user, who said he only does drugs for fun and-at times-as a form of stress relief.

“When pro-athletes, such as Jamal Lewis, only get a six-month sentence for cocaine trafficking, how seriously can we take them?” he joked.

Blanken, who admits he has smoked marijuana, eaten mushrooms, and taken Ecstasy and opiates, added: Couldn’t the $1.4 billion the government spent on a failed drug campaign have had a larger effect elsewhere?

“That money could have aided health care, helped countless other countries, stabilized illegal immigration, or helped to find a new energy source, but, instead, it went down the toilet,” he said.