Anti-drug PSA Well-intentioned, But Misses the Mark

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August 8, 2014 - By Meghan Ralston

Have you seen the viral anti-drug PSA making the rounds this week? The one where the wholesome looking guy at the rave is rolling really, really hard on some unknown substance, feverishly rubbing it on his gums and sweating up a storm while blathering about pretty hair and the amazing beats? And the pretty girl thinks he’s kind of gross and scary?

It’s your basic, old-school ‘just say no’ public service announcement, where there are no actual facts about drugs and not a single tip for how to stay safe in that environment. It would be easy to laugh at it and write it off—except for the fact that potentially tens of thousands of festival-goers are going to be forced to watch it in order to gain admission to Electric Zoo music events.

Talk about a missed opportunity.

A couple of years ago, some of the most prominent DJs at the time (including Kaskade and Steve Aoki) came together to make an equally heavy-handed Ecstasy PSA, and while the standard ‘just say no’ message rings loud and clear, that PSA at least got the critical element exactly right: it featured the DJs advising the viewer what to do if they encounter someone having a problem, as well as telling people how to help themselves if their own drug experience goes awry and becomes dangerous.

It’s not perfect, but at least it provided actual tips.

An anti-drug PSA is pretty useless without any actual facts or lifesaving advice. Scare tactics and over-the-top drug PSAs (U.S. Navy’s “Zombie Bath Salts,” anyone?) geared at teens and 20-somethings incite apathy at best and mockery at worst.

Young people are so sophisticated and so up-to-speed about so many things, including drugs, drug videos and anti-drug messages handed down from on high, that presenting them with images that do not reflect their real lives and typical experiences is likely a waste of time.

Let me be clear about one thing: Electric Zoo should be applauded for at least taking this step. The PSA needs some work, to be sure, but the impulse is good: require event-goers to receive at least a little bit of information that can save their lives or someone else’s life  before allowing them to entrance to the event. Make them look at a 30-second video that says helpful things like, “In crowded, hot environments, mixing drugs with other drugs or alcohol can become extremely dangerous. Stay hydrated, take frequent chill-out breaks in quiet, cooler areas. Immediately seek medical help—don’t wonder, don’t wait, just do it,” etc.

Burning Man is way, way, way overdue for this kind of thing, but I digress.

Good intentions are great, for sure. The impulse to help young people stay safe at music festivals and events is commendable, and other promoters should follow suit. But good intentions minus the actual “here’s how to stay safe” part does nothing to help anyone.

It’s an eye-catching video, but unfortunately, that’s about it.

Let’s hope the leaked PSA is just a preview of a much better and much more helpful final version yet to come.

Meghan Ralston is the harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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