White House Takes New Tack in Drug War

Super Bowl Spot Cautions Against Prescription-Drug Abuse by Teens

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The White House drug office will use its first Super Bowl spot in four years to caution that the biggest teen drug danger could be the legal medicines stored in parents' medicine chests.

The spot is part of a 12-week multimedia campaign that for the first time switches the focus from teens to their parents, and delivers a loud warning that it's no longer just illegal drugs that put teens at risk.

The $14 million push, which will get $28 million in airtime, was produced by Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. DraftFCB is the drug office's agency, but the creative is produced by a number of agencies.

The Super Bowl spot, to air at the close of the first half, features a drug dealer complaining that his business is down because teens are getting high from abusing drugs in the medicine cabinet. It ends with an announcer saying: "Teens don't need a drug dealer to get high, safeguard your prescriptions. Safeguard you teens."

Fox has been asking up to $3 million for a Super Bowl spot. Drug office officials declined to say what the government paid, but said the spot was purchased well in advance at a good price. Under the youth anti-drug program, media companies have to provide a free spot of similar media weight for every spot the government buys. Those free spots will occur in other Fox programming.

Newspaper ads and a second TV ad will follow, and the drug office is also buying ads on bags used by pharmacists to dispense prescription drugs.

Spending on the drug ad program has been declining. Only $60 million was authorized by Congress this year, less than half of the $130 million requested and less than a third of the spending in the campaign's early days. The cuts led the drug office to suspend a second campaign aimed at parents and influencers and to concentrate on teens. National ads are about marijuana and other illegal drugs; an anti-methamphetamine campaign also runs in some markets.

"Teen drug abuse has gone down sharply -- marijuana over 26% in the last six years," said Thomas A. Riley, a drug office spokesman. "Teen meth has gone down too. The only thing that hasn't gone down is prescription drug abuse. These ads are intended to shock and surprise parents and put this on their radar screen."

Partnership President-CEO Stephen J. Pasierb said household medicine abuse is increasingly showing up. "We have done a ton of research and prescription drug abuse is an entire new tier of substance abuse. One of five kids potentially abused prescription drugs and one in 10 reported abusing over-the-counter cough medicine," he said. "What we see in research is that kids and parents think the drugs safer than street drugs. In fact, they are every bit as deadly."

Asked whether the untimely death of actor Heath Ledger, which may possibly have been due to an overdose of legal prescription drugs, caused the drug office to reconsider the timing of the campaign, a drug-office spokesman said it did not.

Regarding the Super Bowl buy, Mr. Pasierb cited the telecast's viewership and cachet. "It's a great opportunity to make a national impact and particularly with the writers strike, we are losing some of marquee events we had."

The latest effort is far tamer than some of the drug office's earlier Super Bowl efforts. In one of the most controversial spots, which ran five months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, an ad showed a shopping list that includes an AK-47 rifle. "Where do terrorists get their money?" asked the voice-over. "If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you."

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