Native youth targeted in anti-drug ads
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FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2002

ELDERS: THE ANTI-DRUG White House campaign focuses on tradition in fight against Native drug use.
The Bush administration's drug czar on Thursday unveiled a new set of ads targeting extremely high rates of drug use among Native American youth.

From Los Angeles, California, John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the two broadcast and six print ads were based on consultation with Native health leaders and government agencies as well as research conducted among Native communities. Created by an Indian-owned advertising firm, the central theme is respect for elders and tribal traditions.

"Grandmother, when you talk, I will listen," reads one print ad destined for Indian Country. "When you teach, I will learn."

Elders and parents, the campaign declares, are the "anti-drug."

Featuring the first-ever set of television commercials aimed at Native parents and youth, the effort intends to reach both urban and reservation communities where illicit drug use is high. For two years in a row, Native youth ages 12-17 have topped their peers for marijuana, cocaine and inhalant abuse, according to federal statistics.

Nearly 23 percent of Native youth reported current use of drugs, a 2001 study showed. This was more than twice the rate reported by whites, nearly three times that of African-Americans and almost four times the rate of Asians.

In response, the White House has earmarked more than $5 million for its American Indian and Alaska Native outreach. Dr. Timothy Taylor, a senior research scientist at the University of New Mexico, contributed to the program and said the ads are "culturally-balanced."

But there is not much evidence the White House efforts work, based on government statistics. Overall use of illicit drugs by youths ages 12-18 hasn't declined significantly over the past five years the campaign has run, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

And Walters, in remarks reported by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, proclaimed the flashy "anti-drug" Clinton-era initiative a flop. "This campaign isn't reducing drug use," he said earlier this year.

During a more recent appearance on CNN, Walters played down the statistics showing little change in drug use. "Well, the researchers aren't sure, and they caution about using that particular part of the evaluation and putting too much behind it," he said Wednesday.

Walters also defended the nearly $1 billion in public funds the White House has spent on the full campaign. He said the newest set of ads were subject to rigorous testing.

Still, Walters wants Congress to continue funding the Media Campaign to the tune of $180 million for fiscal year 2003. He testified before an appropriations committee in late April in support of the public-private partnership which requires media outlets to donate space for the ads.

He said the campaign was successful in that it was "exposed" to its target audience. He cited evidence that youth and parents remembered the ads but the marijuana statistics he provided in fact showed an increase among youth ages 14 to 15.

A former Clinton administration official, however, challenged the suggestion that the campaign is a failure. Bob Weiner was the public affairs director for the White House drug office for more than six years, asserted that data exists which shows the ads have worked.

"It appears that Mr. Walters wants to slam so he can re-create -- or worse, dismantle -- the program," he said.

The White House said the Native campaign will appear in 61 newspapers on or near reservations, 66 radio stations and television outlets in 15 markets. The ads can be viewed at the drug office's web site.

Relevant Links:
White House National Drug Control Policy -
National Institute on Drug Abuse -

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