Texas Study Calls Anti-Drug Ads Ineffective

A study from Texas State University at San Marcos researchers concludes that the government’s anti-drug campaign is not effective in discouraging young people from using drugs, and may actually lead some teens to experiment with drugs, the Houston Chronicle reported May 28.

Harvey Ginsburg and Maria Czyzewska, researchers with the university’s Department of Psychology, asked 53 college students to watch several of the anti-drug commercials and give detailed descriptions of their reaction.

The researchers found that three of every four students said the ads generated thoughts that were counter to the ads’ message. “For example, in response to ads linking drug use to the war on terror, the most frequent unanticipated thoughts were that marijuana should be legalized, the war on drugs has been ineffective, and that marijuana users should grow their own,” said Czyzewska.

She added, “This is a classic example of the ‘boomerang effect’ that other researchers have warned about — commercials producing a response that is precisely the opposite of what the ads’ creators intended.”

The study’s findings were presented at a recent meeting of the American Psychological Society in Chicago, Ill. The research is part of a larger, ongoing project sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project, which promotes marijuana policy reform.

Tom Riley, director of public affairs at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), called the study’s findings “absurd.”

“This would be like tobacco companies coming out and saying that anti-smoking ads don’t work,” he said.

Riley said that in the last two years, teen drug use declined by more than 10 percent, an indication that the ads are working. He also said that the research analyzed responses from college students, while the ads target 13- to 17-year-olds.

ONDCP plans to spend $145 million this year on the campaign.