Confessions of a Teenage Drug Addict > Inept anti-drug media campaigns

The Nation Editorial I: Inept anti-drug media campaigns

Published on May 24, 2002

The Office of the Narcotics Control Board has been following closely in the footsteps of the US government's tradition of a grand strategy in the war on commonly abused drugs like heroin, amphetamines, opium and marijuana, which is being fought with almost religious fervour. The problem is, such an approach requires the input of huge financial resources and manpower to create an expensive-to-maintain drug-war industry.

Many public relations and advertising campaigns have been borrowed from the US, translated into Thai with little or no attempt to adjust them to the Thai context, and then launched with high-budget media blitzes.

Typically, such expensive campaigns involve the use of teenage singers and movie stars being presented as "role models" for young people. These young, successful and super-rich heartthrobs are then paraded in front of the camera to deliver such inane messages as, "Keep off drugs, if you want to be smart, successful, rich and sexy like us".

The same group of angelic-looking entertainers are also being bestowed with award after award proclaiming them the most outstanding talented youths of the year or the cleanest-living youngsters, year-in, year-out.

No one seems to care whether such unimaginative media campaigns really work in preventing young people from experimenting with drugs. Over the years, a countless number of the same hackneyed campaigns have been churned out to bombard the airwaves. No serious effort is made to evaluate their effectiveness as an anti-drug tool.

In the meantime, the spread of drugs appears to continue, particularly among young people. In the latest official estimates, there are about three million people in this country who have at one time or another dabbled with drugs. Of this, about 10 per cent or 300,000 are active drug users.

On the law enforcement side, the influx of amphetamines through the porous borders continues unabated. It was only in recent years that the government shifted emphasis in the war on drugs to the reduction of demand

But to effectively reduce the demand for drugs, especially among youths who make up the great majority of new users, campaigners must first learn how to get in touch with the realities of the world of young people.

Anti-drug advocates should also pay attention to the recent findings by US anti-drug authorities that indicate that campaigns that treat young people like babies or puppets are bound to fail because today's youths do not find the anti-drug messages anywhere near persuasive.

It is not difficult to guess why. Parents, teachers and policy makers are at a loss as to what kind of message teenagers might positively react to because they have no idea how modern youngsters live their lives or react to new realities around them.

These are the sobering facts that parents, teachers and policy makers must wake up to - and quickly. Thailand's anti-drug policy, strategies and approaches must be revamped, when a large and ever-growing number of youths are persuaded by drug pushers to believe that those who use drugs have more fun. It's time well-meaning adults put their heads together and try to learn new tricks.