Ad campaign targets youth drug use
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In response to recent statistics which show high drug use among young Native Americans and Alaska Natives, the White House Office of National Drug Control on Wednesday announced a $2 million radio, newspaper, and magazine advertising campaign aimed at fighting the problem.

Based on research conducted in Alaska, Montana, and Arizona, the ads not only target Native youth, but their parents and tribal leaders. With slogans like "Drugs are not part of our Native cultures" and "Doing drugs is not the Indian way," the ads evoke the "Just Say No" campaign of the early 1980s spearheaded by First Lady Nancy Reagan, instead of the harsh reality of anti-drug ads which have appeared in recent years.

Nationwide, 19.6 percent of Native youth ages 12 through 17 report having used illicit drugs in the past month, according to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. The rate is more than twice the national average.

However, an informal Indianz.Com poll of several tribal leaders revealed that many believe the statistics mask a much bigger problem. Tribal leaders responded with comments such as "That seems low" or "That is not surprising" when asked about the survey.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy trumpets that Native youth and adults will see the ads seven times a week. With 29 magazines, 79 tribal newspapers, and 43 radio stations receiving the ads, the campaign certainly appears to be targeting a wide audience.

But with the majority of American Indian and Alaska Native teens living outside of reservations, according to the Census Bureau, the ad campaign has a tough job ahead if it intends to decrease drug use among Native youth. Already, some advertisements have begun airing in Oklahoma, New York, California, and South Dakota.

Naturally, the creators of the ads believe they will reach the desired audience. Not surprisingly, some tribal leaders are wondering if the effort is worth it.

"On the reservation, people have limited to access to running water, much less television and newspapers," says the Honorable Mary Pearson, Judge of the Spokane Tribal Court in Wellpinit, Washington. Pearson says the alcohol is most often used by teens on the reservation, followed by marijuana and then, crack cocaine.

Pearson, like many other tribal leaders, believes money in the form of grants would be the most helpful in combating the youth drug problem. The tribe recently received a $384,782 grant from the Department of Justice, which it will use to establish a juvenile court, which Pearson says will service 15 to 20 youth on the reservation.

In addition to $100,000 Pearson estimates it costs to run her court every year, she also says it can cost up to $4500 per month for an American Indian youth to spend in an inpatient rehabilitation facility. She hopes that the juvenile drug court will take the place of youth spending repeated periods of time in inpatient facilities.

The $2 million spent on the ad campaign could instead put Pearson's 20 youth in an inpatient rehabilitation facility every day for at least 2 years. Or, it could fund her juvenile drug court for the next 20 years.

You can see some of the ads which have been generated for other audiences at

Get the Drug Use Report:
1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (SAMHSA August 2000)

Relevant Links:
Office of National Drug Control Policy -
The Media Campaign -
The Drug Court Programs Office, US Department of Justice -
Tribal Drug Court Resources, Tribal Court Clearinghouse -

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