Move Follows Criticism of Ad Campaign's Excessive Marijuana Focus

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A month after a National Association of Counties survey found that 56% of U.S. sheriffs believed that methamphetamine -- not marijuana -- was their top drug problem, the White House Drug Office has announced a refocusing of its anti-drug advertising to include methamphetamines.

Methamphetamine 'Ice' is a crystalline, smokable form of the drug that is highly addictive.
Significant shift
The move is a significant shift from the policy initiated in the fall of 2002 when the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy skewed its advertising program heavily toward marijuana. At that time, ONDCP Director John Walters said, "No drug matches the threat posed by marijuana."

However, in recent months, ONDCP's singular focus on pot has become the target of increasingly stiff criticism from members of Congress and other law-enforcement agencies. For instance, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's 2005 "National Drug Threat Assessment" released last month concluded that methamphetamine posed a greater threat for law enforcement.

Early this month Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joe Biden, D-Del., wrote to Mr. Walters complaining that anti-methamphetamine advertising spending should get higher priority than marijuana. Mr. Grassley is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and Mr. Biden, besides being ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential candidate for 2008.

'Terribly addictive drug'
The senators' letter called methamphetamine "a terribly addictive drug that continues to devastate families and communities and deplete the resources of law enforcement across the country.” The letter also asked for answers to a series of questions about how the drug office is dealing with amphetamines.

Today, ONDCP chief Walters was scheduled to announce that the White House drug office was shifting more of its advertising emphasis to anti-methamphetamine work and will begin spending for that new program in November. The ad changes were part of a new array of anti-methamphetamine measures announced by Bush administration officials.

A drug-office spokesman said the marijuana will still be the focus on the national campaign, but the office will now also mount anti-methamphetamine advertising as a local effort.

$120 million
The drug office has $120 million to spend on advertising this year, down from $145 million last year, but it gets a free ad for every ad it buys.

Creative for the new advertising is being developed by four agencies for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, handles the drug office account.

To speed deployment of the methamphetamine campaign, the drug office has taken the unusual step of paying the Partnership nearly $1 million to help develop, track and distribute the ads. The Partnership, which is the advertising and media industry’s public anti-drug service arm, normally performs its work for free. But because the White House wants a quicker turnaround on the anti-methamphetamine work, it will be paid $1 million for its public-service efforts.

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