Shock anti-drugs campaigns 'are a waste of money'

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The Independent Online

Shock tactics such as video campaigns which depict dead addicts do not stop young people from using drugs, a leading research body says.

Last week, the parents of Rachel Whitear, a heroin addict, announced that a photograph of their daughter lying dead with a syringe in her hand would be used in an anti-drugs video.

However, new findings from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (Nida) in the US show that campaigns like these are a waste of money.

The report from Nida found that large-scale public awareness initiatives, using posters and videos, have little impact.

There have already been several high-profile poster campaigns in Britain using images of dead drug users, such as Leah Betts. But this has not reduced the number of fatalities. Heroin deaths alone have increased five-fold since the early 1990s. New government figures released last week show there were 926 heroin deaths in 2000, compared with 187 in 1993.

More than £6.6bn is spent a year on illegal drugs in Britain, with dealers earning over £2bn from heroin sales.

Even Government ministers have been forced to admit that shock public awareness campaigns have little impact. Last month, Bob Ainsworth, a Home Office Minister, admitted to a select committee hearing that anti-drugs initiatives such as the "Just Say No" campaign do not work.

Drug charities say drug-user statistics will continue to rise unless more money is spent on treating addicts.

Roger Howard, chief executive of the drug charity DrugScope, said that people needed credible information and treatment, not just videos depicting dead drug users.

"The video alone is not enough – they need facts and not shock tactics. It's things like that which may have saved Rachel's life. The Government has a responsibility to put in place good quality treatment."