-- When President Trump declared opioids a national health crisis, he also promised money for "really great advertising," saying, "If we can teach young people, and people generally, not to start, it's really, really easy for them not to take them."
This, of course, is not the first time money has been spent on drug education and this is not the first administration to commit money for anti-drug public service announcements. Most famously, part of President Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs included the "Just Say No" campaign, spearheaded by First Lady Nancy Reagan.
"Did it stop kids from using drugs? Probably not," says Ray Isackila, Manager of Addiction Recovery Services at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. "But it perhaps probably laid the foundation for our culture to become more aware of the need for education, prevention, treatment."
Isackila cites the effectiveness of anti-smoking PSAs on the decrease in teen smoking and praises previous PSA efforts to call attention to the drug problem. But he doesn't share the President's optimism that the prevention of drug abuse will be easy and be done can simply by some catchy PSAs.
"A quick sentence or two, to think that it's going to prevent drug abuse, that's unrealistic," says Isackila. "PSAs are helpful if they're based in research. We have had a history of public service announcements that were borderline scare tactics, kind of shock value, and those have proven not too effective in preventing drug abuse."
Isackila says some PSAs backfire, since making behavior seem risky can also make it attractive to adolescents. He also says celebrity testimonials often don't work because it can send the message you can use drugs and still be a star.
"You can party your brains out for ten years, look, and then you're a hero later," says Isackila. "That's not a message that is intended by the speaker but you have to know your audience."
He suggests honesty in the ads featuring people who know drugs. He also suggests targeting parents, who set the tone in the house with their attitude toward drugs, calling a no tolerance attitude toward drugs the the biggest protective factor parents can give their kids. But PSAs also can't lose sight of the fact they battle a product that makes the user feel good, feel excited, and feel accepted.
"There are some statements made in politics regarding, 'We're going to eradicated drug abuse in our country, we're going to solve the drug problem,' says Isackila. "My opinion is that will not happen in our lifetime."
Five Keys to Successful Anti-Drug PSAs
1) Use honesty, ads based in fact and research from people who know drugs
2) Target parents, not kids
3) Know how seductive drugs can be
4) Avoid scare tactics, since risky behavior can be attractive to young adults
5) Avoid testimonials, which send message you can use drugs and still be a star