Press Release  | 04/03/2003

Drug Czar Cancels Misleading "Drugs & Terrorism" Ad Campaign

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ONDCP Also to Stop Annual Evaluation that has Shown Anti-Drug Ads to be Ineffective
Decisions Follow Recent Congressional Slashing of Drug Czar's Overall Ad Budget

After spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a controversial advertising campaign blaming Americans who use drugs for funding terrorism, the White House decided this week to drop the ads. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) also decided to cut a yearly study it has used to gauge the effectiveness of its own ads. Last year's study proved embarrassing to ONDCP, finding that a major recent campaign had failed to lower teenage drug use. Critics have applauded the cancellation of the terrorism ad campaign, while questioning cutting the annual evaluation.

"This campaign wasn't actually about prevention," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. "It was meant to tell skeptical adults that the failed drug war still mattered after 9-11. No wonder young people ignored it."

Amid growing criticism of the ads and questions about their cost-effectiveness, Congress had recently reduced ONDCP's advertising budget by roughly $25 million, to $150 million.

Following the launching of the campaign in February 2002, the Alliance led the fight, in the media and elsewhere, to end the ads. Many prominent critics agreed, noting:

The ads were factually misleading: they blamed drugs and non-violent Americans for terror funding, when, in fact, the drug war itself is responsible for creating the illegal markets that generate those funds. Blaming Americans for funding terrorism is like blaming alcohol consumers in the 1920s for Al Capone's violence.

  • The ads wasted precious resources: the federal government was spending tens of millions of dollars on a television and print ad campaign to demonize Americans when more than half of the people in the country who need drug treatment cannot get it.
  • The ads were politically motivated: the drug czar's office used millions of taxpayer dollars trying to persuade the American public and Congress that the failed drug war is still worth funding.
  • The ads did nothing to educate children about the health risks of drug use, or to stimulate real dialogue among parents and children about drugs. Instead, they dishonestly linked the war on drugs to the war on terrorism in a desperate and cynical effort to protect drug war budgets.

As state and federal budgets suffer deficits and face painful spending cuts, critics say that youth drug prevention ads should be held to the highest standards of cost-effectiveness -- and should be abandoned immediately if proven ineffective. Yet ONDCP will no longer evaluate its own ads scientifically.

"Wouldn't it be great if we could all throw out our own performance evaluations when we failed?" added Nadelmann. "It's part and parcel of the drug war -- fail more, spend more and bury your head in the sand."


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Tony Newman at 510-812-3126

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