California Anti-Drug Campaign Aims to Change Perceptions

An anti-drug campaign launched in schools in Palo Alto, Calif., is aimed at showing students that not everybody is consuming alcohol, taking drugs, or smoking. However, some drug experts question whether the campaign is downplaying a community problem, the Palo Alto Weekly reported April 28.

A student survey was recently conducted at all middle and high schools in Palo Alto. The survey found that more than 90 percent of high-school students hadn’t consumed any alcohol in a typical week, and three-quarters didn’t drink in a typical month. The survey also found that more than 70 percent never smoked marijuana and 80 percent never used tobacco products. The percentages were higher among middle-school students.

The Community Drug and Alcohol Committee, comprised of local parents, school administrators, and health experts, expect students and parents to be surprised at the study’s findings. That’s why they have hired a Montana consultant to create a marketing campaign aimed at addressing student perceptions of peer drug use.

But some drug-policy experts question the accuracy of the information, since the survey, although taken completed anonymously, was asking teens to admit to illegally drinking.

The social-norming approach — aimed at reducing teen drinking by fighting the perception that most teens use alcohol and other drugs — also is controversial.

“Misperceptions can actually suppress positive behaviors,” said Becky Beacom, manager of health education with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, which is spearheading the campaign. But others say that the approach could lead to less attention to the alcohol and other drug use that is occurring.