Since the 1960's, drug abuse has been viewed by the
American public through different lenses. Some see it as strictly an enforcement
issue - people breaking the law must be dealt with harshly and sent to
jail. Others see it as a personal, moral failing - it is a "lifestyle"
choice that people make, and they are only hurting themselves, so if they
damage themselves, so be it. And, still others felt that it was a non-problem
- drugs aren't really that bad, kids are going to try them no matter what.
Very few people, from the 60's through the '80s, saw drug abuse as
a health threat or a preventable behavior, or saw addiction as a treatable
disease. These differing, contentious and polarizing attitudes created
barriers to the development of effective prevention and treatment protocols
and programs. To deal with this, the Partnership has long sought to
reposition drug abuse as a health issue and has, unsuccessfully until
recently, attempted to engage the medical community as an ally in this
Based on Partnership research conducted in 2002, teen trial of illegal
drugs was often viewed by parents as a rite of passage that was more
or less bound to happen; experimentation was viewed as a law enforcement
issue; and only dependent, regular use became a health issue in which
the parents should intervene by forcing their children into "rehab"
to get treatment for their problem.
Overall, illegal drugs were not seen by parents as a medical problem
posing a threat to the health of their children. And, unlike other health
threats where parents would spare no effort or expense to try to prevent
them from affecting their kids, drug abuse prevention was a relatively
unknown topic and rarely practiced by parents with any degree of depth
beyond the routine "don't do drugs" speech. Changing this
attitude set among parents was targeted by the Partnership as a high
priority goal in 2003.
The Partnership theorized that, if drug abuse could be successfully
repositioned with parents as a health issue, parents would take a greater
interest in learning more about it and take greater action in helping
to prevent their children from being afflicted by it. In order to successfully
do this, the Partnership reasoned, it would be necessary to affiliate
with a program partner that has impeccable medical credentials in the
eyes of parents.
After two years of discussions and negotiation, the Partnership forged
a working relationship with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The agreed-upon plan concept was to 1) reposition drug abuse as a health
threat to children; 2) help educate parents as to the threat of drugs,
specifically meth and ecstasy; and 3) persuade the parents to talk to
their kids and educate them about this threat as well.
- The Partnership would produce a public service advertising campaign
comprising meth and ecstasy messages.
- Volunteer pediatricians, recruited by the AAP, would become community
prevention spokespeople and bring, through the news media and personal
appearances at parent groups and functions, the message of this threat
to parents and the appeal to them that they can successfully, and
must, get involved with their kids on this issue.
- To complement the public service advertising campaign, a public
relations resource would be retained to gather and disseminate, through
news media, real-person stories about experiences with meth. Additionally,
the public relations resource would provide professional media training
to the volunteer pediatricians and would coordinate their media interviews
and public appearances. The doctors would receive additional training
on the pharmacology of meth from experts in the field to better prepare
them for their roles as prevention spokespeople.
The AAP agreed and the concept became a reality. With funding from
the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), pilot tests of
this program were launched in St. Louis and Phoenix in 2003. Outcomes
were measured by a quantitative survey, patterned after the Partnership's
16-year Partnership Attitude & Tracking Study (PATS), in the two
The results of the pilot tests exceeded expectations and produced positive
results including statistically significant increases, 2004 v. 2003,
in key performance measures.
1. There was a significant increase in parent perception that kids'
trying meth is a health problem carrying health risks.
2. There was a significant increase in teen perception that trying
meth would pose a serious risk.
3. There was a high level of involvement of parents talking to their
kids about meth and ecstasy in the past year.
4. Parents cited as the source of the information that influenced their
positive behaviors the key media message channels that the campaign
Based on these results, the Partnership concluded that:
- Public relations and advertising served to effectively reposition
meth and Ecstasy use as health concerns
- Health message and messenger, pediatricians, had positive impact
on parent and teen awareness and key attitudes
- This campaign model is replicable and should be expanded to other
markets as resources permit
The AAP was quite pleased with the results, not only from the research,
but based on the experiences related to the organization by the participating
volunteer pediatricians. They expressed willingness to participate in
the expansion of this program.
Based on the success of this pilot program and with additional funding
from the CHPA, the Partnership expanded the effort in 2005. New meth
messages were created to refresh the advertising component of the campaign.
The AAP continues its vital support and a significant number of new
volunteer pediatricians have been trained and are actively engaged.
The Partnership is discussing options for further expansion in 2006-7.
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