‘This is your brain on drugs’ advert from the 1980s does more harm than good, say drug campaigners

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids said it wants to give parents more information on how to talk about drugs with their children, while campaigners say the advert stigmatises drug users


Rachael Revesz
New York
Wednesday 10 August 2016 16:43 BST
‘This is your brain on drugs’ advert from the 1980s does more harm than good

"This is your brain. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?"

The infamous advert, targeted at children from the 1980s, has been revamped three decades later, but it still risks "demonising" and "discriminating" against drug users, campaigners argued.

The message that “drugs are dangerous” was new enough to have a serious impact on people watching the 30-second television advert 30 years ago, said Rebecca Shaw, director of advertising and production at the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

She told Ad Week that the issue of drugs had since become “so much more complicated”.

“At the time it used to be enough to say drugs are dangerous because that was actually new information at the time. 'Any questions?' posed at the end of the spot could be rhetorical but today teens do have questions and they're not easy ones to answer,” she said.

The new advert, repackaged for the non-profit organisation, points to drugfree.org, so parents can inform themselves on how to answer those questions.

But Matt Curtis, policy director of campaign group Vocal New York, told The Independent that anti-drug adverts have wider implications for public health, criminal justice and racism. He also said this advert specifically was "harmful".

"We all agree that we want people to be well and happy and not die from an overdose, but these adverts currently stigmatise people who are using drugs and it can contribute to discrimination in health care and crummy drug health treatment," he said.

Mr Curtis added that boiling down the message of the advert was a disservice to a very complex issue.

"We have replaced an old system of apartheid and slavery with a sort of massive economic and criminal justice system of control. I say this without any hyperbole - it reinforces a system of white supremacy in the US," he said.

The non-profit previously teamed up with actress Rachael Leigh Cook, also using an egg and a skillet, to show how the brain was “crushed” by taking heroin.

Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director from the Drug Policy Alliance, said the advert was “great” but the link that the advert directs parents to is "seriously lacking" in information.

"They are missing a major opportunity to provide accurate information to young people," he said.

"The bottom line with young people is to ensure their safety, not just discouraging them from drugs, but also providing accurate information for kids both doing drugs and considering doing it," he added.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids could not be immediately reached for comment.

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