Three Duke Researchers Suggest New Focus for Drug Education
The anti-drug media campaign announced last week by President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich is dominated by negative messages and violent images that simply replace the "Just Say No" and "This Is Your Brain On Drugs" campaigns with 1990s MTV images, say three Duke professors who have co-authored a research-based book on the effects of drugs on the brain.
While the new campaign does alert people to the problem of drug abuse, the Duke researchers maintain the ads provide little in the way of specific or positive strategies for preventing and reducing drug use. The campaign also fails to address two crucial aspects of drug use: the complexity of how drugs affect the human brain, and the complexity of the decision-making process about whether or not to use drugs.
Moreover, they say it ignores the fact that kids often know more about drugs than their parents do.
According to Wilkie Wilson, professor of pharmacology at Duke University Medical Center, a successful campaign to reduce abuse must have, at its core, both accurate information and a positive message that treating one's brain with care will lead to a productive, happy and successful life. Similar campaigns to reduce heart disease risk have been very successful, while the exclusively negative approach to drug-taking behavior has been notoriously ineffective, the authors say.
"We do an injustice to the youth of America when we try to make blanket statements like 'Drugs Kill,' or 'Users are Losers,'" Wilson said. "Such empty slogans fail to take into account the incredible complexity of the human brain."
Each drug works differently in the brain and each has different risks and effects. Marijuana impairs memory, while cocaine can cause heart attacks and strokes, the researchers said. Some drugs can kill a person upon the first use, while others have more subtle and long-term consequences that can't be detected for years.
"When we deliver misleading information by lumping these points all together, we lose our credibility as drug educators," Wilson said.
Instead, the professors propose a drug education campaign that helps and encourages parents to learn and communicate truthful information about drugs. "If you buy credibility and trust up front, you can spend it later," Wilson said.
Wilson and colleagues Scott Swartzwelder and Cynthia Kuhn are the authors of a research-based book, Buzzed: The Straight Facts about the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy (W.W. Norton, 1998), that describes the pharmacologic effects of commonly used drugs, from the most notorious street drugs to over-the-counter medications. In addition, they have set up a web site -- http://www.buzzed.org -- to answer questions from the general public about recreational drugs.