President Trump has a plan for stemming the opioid crisis: Tell young people that drugs are bad. Last August, he said that teenagers could be prevented from ever starting drugs if they were given a wordier version of Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” message. Drugs are “no good, really bad for you in every way,” they should be told, Trump said. Then, in October, he renewed the push for “really tough, really big, really great advertising so we get to people before they start.”
Next week, those ads will arrive, Axios reports, and they will aim to “shock the conscience.”
“He thinks you have to engage and enrage,” a source told Mike Allen, who writes that Trump likes the straightforwardness of the classic “Your Brain on Drugs” ads. The new spots have already been focus-grouped on young people and they will provide resources for more information and suggestions on where people can get help.
The first “Your Brain on Drugs” ad debuted in 1987. It was revived in 1997 and again two years ago, even though it never really worked.
Keith Humphreys, former senior policy adviser for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told WBUR this week that the research on anti-drug ads says that they make no difference at all, except when they encourage drug use. “Occasionally at least some kids who see more of these ads actually say they’re more interested in trying drugs,” he said. “That there’s something about the ads that either glamorize drugs to them or set off the young rebel in them.”
One anti-drug campaign that did work succeeded becuase it veered away from the scare tactics. The “Above the Influence” campaign, launched in 2005, saw moderate success by focusing not on drugs, but on the things teenagers could be doing instead of getting high. The ads also encouraged teens to be independent and autonomous by rejecting peer pressure.
The Trump administration appears to be returning to the stark tactics of the 1980s, and that could have seriously negative consequences. As Humphreys also told NPR last year, these types of ads give rebellious kids bad ideas: “It was a signal that, ‘Hey, you know, if you really want to irritate your elders, this is the way to do it.’”