Anti-drug group hopes political heat helps cause

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The Partnership for a Drug-Free America hopes the political debate over increasing teen drug use will refocus a spotlight on the issue and translate into increased media support for its messages.

Recent figures showing illegal drug use among 12-to-17-year-olds has more than doubled since 1992 were wielded by GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole in an attack on President Clinton's policies. That attack came despite evidence teen drug use began rising at the end of President Bush's term, when the Persian Gulf war and other matters drove the anti-drug crusade from national attention.

"With the political attention, there is a renewed public focus and concern. We hope the increased attention to the issue . . . will translate into greater media weight down the line," said Steve Dnistrian, deputy director of external affairs for the Partnership.


The non-profit organization has seen a steady decline in media support for its public-service messages since media weight peaked at $365 million in 1991. Projected media support for this year is $260 million, down 7.1% from 1995.

The Partnership notes that drug use among teens began rising as media support began dipping. Studies show that teens, exposed to fewer anti-drug messages, viewed drugs as less risky and more socially acceptable.

"The turnaround started with the decline in media support," Mr. Dnistrian said.

Partnership Chairman Jim Burke, former chairman-CEO at Johnson & Johnson, is actively pushing for more media support with the goal of returning to 1991 levels of $1 million a day.


The political aspects of the drug crusade are working against the Partnership in at least one case.

An anti-drug spot featuring Colin Powell won't get airtime until after the elections because the TV networks don't want to appear partisan, said Doria Steedman, exec VP-director of creative development.

The Powell spot is one of several new ads. To combat "heroin chic"--portrayals in movies and magazines of heroin as a cool drug--the Partnership launched the first national ad campaign targeting that drug in June.

One powerful spot from J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, features a real-life addict, and former ad agency art director, "Ashley," who appears first as a glamorous blonde. As the spot progresses, she unpins her hair, wipes off her make-up and removes her false teeth to reveal a haggard face.

In addition to seeking increased support from national and local media, the Partnership will soon announce plans for an extensive Web site aimed at both parents and teens.

Contributing: Ira Teinowitz.

Copyright September 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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