What is the ONDCP "National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign?"

It is a five year, $1 billion program of paid media messages to "educate and enable America's youth to reject illegal drugs."1 While the campaign contains a number of components, the largest is a series of carefully designed television, radio and print media advertisements. These advertisements are intended "to prevent drug use before it starts and to encourage occasional users to discontinue use. In both cases, the drugs to focus on are drugs of first use."2

The media effort targets two audiences: (1) "early adolescents" -- those before the age when drug use has normally been initiated, and (2) parents.

The campaign is designed as an integrated effort in contrast to an ad hoc assembly of pre-existing spots, brochures and advertisements. As the ONDCP strategic plan says: The campaign strategy is designed to use a "full range of media mechanisms and formats in an integrated fashion and in a manner consistent with the communications strategy. To ensure effectiveness, all message executions should be pre-tested with diverse members of the target audience before final distribution."3

The campaign plan also declares that "success requires a significant media presence." "Even if campaign messages are extremely effective, they cannot be expected to drive a national change in drug-use prevalence unless they are seen repeatedly by a sizeable proportion of the target audience. To ensure that the campaign messages reach the target audience, they must be aired frequently. To make sure that a consistently high exposure rate can be maintained without having the message seem repetitive, boring, or annoying, a sizeable number of diverse message executions will have to be developed and aired during the course of the campaign."4

In summary the ONDCP plan requires that a number of professionally executed, carefully planned spots be produced with a coordinated message -- and that those spots be shown repeatedly at the best viewing times to reach the targeted audiences.

Does the ONDCP plan include messages designed to prevent or reduce underage drinking?


The media plan says: "Although underage use of alcohol and tobacco is not legal, the campaign will not use paid media resources to address these issues."5

Is underage drinking an important drug problem?

General McCaffrey, Director of ONDCP, frequently says that alcohol is the most used and abused drug by America's children. As recently as February 8, during the White House news conference announcing the 1999 ONDCP National Drug Strategy, General McCaffrey said:

You know, as a general note, I frequently say, by background, the most dangerous drug in America today is still alcohol. I mean it kills arguably 100,000 people a year. It is a $150 billion loss to American society. It's the biggest drug abuse problem for adolescents, and its linked to the use of other illegal drugs. So from the viewpoint of adolescence, we are quite concerned about reducing alcohol use.

This follows a long line of similar pronouncements from the Drug Czar. In May 1998 he said: "There is no question that the worst drug among adolescents right now from any standpoint is alcohol."6

The 1999 Drug Control Strategy released by ONDCP says at page 22: "Youth alcohol use strongly correlates with later adult drug use. For example, adults who start drinking as children are eight times more likely to use cocaine than adults who did not drink as children. . . . Prevention of alcohol use by children is critical if we are to reduce the costs of drug addiction and alcoholism."7

In fact by almost any measure the most serious drug problem facing America's youth is underage drinking. It kills far more children every year than all other drugs combined. In 1997, according to a new study by the Pacific Institute, 6,350 people between the ages of 12 and 24 died from alcohol related problems, while only 980 in the same age group died from all other drugs combined. The 1999 ONDCP plan says at page 58: "Alcohol is by far the drug of choice among American youth."8

But alcohol is not just a problem by itself. As ONDCP's plan says, in order to reduce drug use it is important to focus on the drugs of first use. And the primary gateway drug -- the one that begins the progression of drug use for those children who do go on to use other drugs, is alcohol. To quote from ONDCP's on-line paper on "Gateway Drugs:"

"The science tells us that preventing or delaying alcohol or tobacco use prevents or delays the use of other drugs as well. . . for boys, alcohol is the precursor to marijuana and illegal drugs. For girls, tobacco smoking along with alcohol is the precursor."9

General McCaffrey testified to this before the Government Reform Committee's subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs and Criminal Justice in March, 1998, saying:

"Drug abuse is preventable. If boys and girls reach adulthood without using illegal drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, they probably will never develop a chemical dependency problem. Aggressive efforts to prevent underage use of tobacco and alcohol are essential to the prevention of illicit drug use."10

ONDCP is supported in this conclusion by former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph Califano and his Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The Center's study of gateway drugs concludes that children who begin drinking alcohol by the age of 15 stand a 67% chance of progressing to use other drugs. Those who delay their first drink until the age of 21 are almost certain not to progress to other drugs. In other words, preventing (or delaying) underage drinking is critical to any effort to prevent children from picking up other illicit drugs.

What does ONDCP say to those who ask about the absence of any paid media addressing the problem of underage drinking?

General McCaffrey claims that he is prohibited by law from using federally appropriated funds [the paid portion of the media campaign] to address the problems of underage drinking.11

He also says that there are sufficient opportunities through the pro bono match portions of the campaign for alcohol issues to be addressed.

However, in a January 1998 White House Press Briefing, McCaffrey was asked by a reporter "Do we need to give more attention to alcohol?" His answer was:

"No question. You know, if you talk to a policeman on a beat in any one of these American cities, alcohol is a mildly addictive, readily available drug that is responsible for more damage in our society than any other drug on the street. And it is also associated in a dramatic way with violent behavior. . ."12

What are the pro bono match requirements for the paid media advertisements?

"Every media outlet that accepts the campaign's paid advertising will be asked to match the government's purchase with an equal value of public service in the form of public service announcement (PSA) time or space, or other programs or activities related to youth substance abuse prevention. This public service time will be shared with other organizations to promote anti-drug related messages, such as mentoring, underage alcohol and tobacco use, early childhood development, teen volunteering, crime prevention, and after-school activities. Media outlets can also provide in-kind contributions for local community events, editorial coverage, and other unique activities."13

ONDCP further points out that the current reel of possible spots that they have approved for use as a possible way of fulfilling match requirements includes 2 underage drinking spots (out of 21 available options). It also includes one anti-drunk-driving spot.

Is the "Match" enough?

(1) As ONDCP's strategy points out, in order to be effective , the advertisements must be part of a coordinated campaign effort with a consistent message and style. They must be repeatedly broadcast to provide saturated exposure to the target audience.

(2) Stations are not required to run PSA's in order to meet their match requirements. If they do choose to run PSA's, they are not required to run those during specified time slots in order to be viewed by the target audience. And if they do choose to run spots from the reel of "approved" national spots for their match requirement, they may choose to run or not run any spots they want. There is no guarantee that the alcohol issues will be addressed at all.

(3) General McCaffrey said in answers to questions before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal and General Government on March 25, 1999 that there were significant numbers of alcohol spots being run as part of the pro bono match. According to figures on the number of pro bono TV spots that ONDCP has provided us with, as of April 1, 1999 the underage drinking spots (from MADD and NCADD) were only 6.7% of the total pro bono match,14 hardly adequate coverage.

Who we are and what we want.

This paper has been written on behalf of an ad hoc coalition of organizations that are concerned about underage drinking. As of April 2, 1999 the groups actively participating in this effort include: The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors, and the Partnership for Recovery (4 major treatment centers). The actual text of this document has not been reviewed by each participating organization and represents the views of CSPI alone.

We are all united in our desire to see the ONDCP National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign expanded to include anti-underage drinking messages as part of the coordinated, federally paid portion of the campaign.

We are in the early stages of circulating this document to a wide variety of public health organizations.

1. The National Youth Anti-drug Media Campaign: Communications Strategy Statement, Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1998, p. 3.

2. Ibid., p. 5.

3. Ibid., p. 9.

4. Ibid., p. 10.

5. Ibid., p. 5.

6. Alcohol Issues Insights, May 1998. The next month at a news conference at the ONDCP Headquarters regarding a drug use survey, he said: "People ask me what the most dangerous drug in America is. It is clearly a 12-year-old, an adolescent, a middle school student, a high school student, regularly abusing pot; and oh, by the way, also alcohol, mostly beer, and cigarettes. And these three, the trio of destructive gateway behaviors -- cigarettes, booze and pot -- have an enormous likelihood of influencing, of setting up a young person for a lifetime of compulsive dug use . . . Again, without question, alcohol. It kills 100,000 people a year. It does $150 billion worth of damage...the problem is that we have to focus on a prevention message, on community-wide prevention efforts, that decrease the willingness of adolescents to smoke pot, smoke cigarettes, and abuse alcohol. That’s the deal." Press conference, July 25, 1998.

7. The National Drug Control Strategy: 1999, Office of National Drug Control Policy, p. 22.

8. Ibid., p. 58.

9. http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/drugfact/gateway.html

10. General Barry McCaffrey, testimony before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs and Criminal Justice on the ONDCP budget request, March 26, 1998. Emphasis added.

11. Testimony of General Barry McCaffrey before the Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal and General Government of the Appropriations Committee of the United States House of Representatives, Wednesday, March 3, 1999. In a written legal opinion to U.S. Congresswoman Carrie Meek, dated March 30, 1998, the Congressional Research Service finds that the term "drug abuse" as used in the authorization for the media campaign, is undefined. They find weak support for McCaffrey’s opinion, saying: "the exclusion of the word ‘alcohol’ from the term ‘drug’ as used under the [separate] Reauthorization Act, would lend support to an argument that the term ‘drug abuse’...was not intended to include the abuse of alcohol....It should be further noted, however, that agencies are generally given significant discretion by the courts in defining and implementing statutory mandates. Consequently, if the Office of National Drug Control Policy determined that a media campaign against controlled substances would be more effective if it also addressed underage drinking, such a finding would be given deference by a court. [Emphasis added]."

12. General McCaffrey speaking at a White House Press Briefing, January 13, 1998.

13. ONDCP Brochure "At a Glance," which summarizes the Media Campaign.

14. In testimony on the Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign presented before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal and General Government on March 25, 1999, General Barry McCaffrey said that a total of 14,207,065 PSA’s had been run in the campaign. If you use that figure as a total number of match spots, the alcohol related spots are only 4/100 of 1%. We find the 14.2 million figure for total pro bono spots hard to believe, and General McCaffrey’s staff told us on April 29, 1999 that the figure in his testimony was intended to refer to everything from bus kiosk ads to unfavorable substance abuse mentions in movies. We had used the .004% figure for the alcohol pro bono spots in earlier versions of this paper. A detailed listing of all pro bono spots was provided to NCADD and according to that listing on April 2, 1999 there were 3,194 underage drinking spots (by NCADD and MADD) run out of a total of 47,278 matching spots; still only a 6.7% coverage.