Naked City

Weed Watch: No child's urine left behind

During his State of the Union address on Jan. 20, President George W. Bush announced a proposal to allocate $23 million for schools to implement drug testing programs. Bush happily noted that drug use among high school students has dropped 11% in the past two years, a decline he credited in part to the effectiveness of in-school drug testing – a claim that drug reformers and civil libertarians say is specious, at best.

"Drug testing is not the magic solution to our kids' safety in schools. It does not reduce drug use among students," said Drug Policy Alliance attorney Judy Appel in the DPA's weekly newsletter. "If the president wants to address teenage drug use, he should allocate that [money] to the after-school programs that have been cut, to drug prevention programs, and to full-time substance abuse counselors in schools." A study published last April by the Journal of School Health found that drug testing had no effect on reducing drug use among middle and high school students. The DPA notes that only 5% of schools have drug-testing policies, making it highly unlikely that testing could've played any substantial role in the decline of drug use among teens. (For more on drug testing, see www.drugpolicy.org.)

Meanwhile, even as the president credits drug testing for a decline in drug use, his drug czar John Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, has also taken credit, calling the drop (which drug reformers say is exaggerated to begin with) a byproduct of his $150 million anti-drug media campaign. "Fewer teens are using drugs because of the deliberate and serious message they have received about the dangers of drugs from their parents, leaders and the prevention efforts like our [media campaign]," Walters said in a December ONDCP press release.

Unfortunately, a study released Jan. 19 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse directly contradicts Walters' claim. According to a four-year NIDA-commissioned study conducted by the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, "there is little evidence of direct favorable [media campaign] effects on youth." (The full report is available online at www.drugabuse.gov/DESPR/Westat/index.html.) Not that the NIDA study is likely to end the much-criticized ad campaign; instead, it may signal the end of independent evaluation. According to the DRCNet, the ONDCP has successfully lobbied to end funding for outside analyses of the media campaign, instead assigning that job to its campaign cohorts, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Meanwhile, Super Bowl watchers can expect another round of the ONDCP's ads to air on CBS. Last week, CBS announced that it would not air the winner of the MoveOn.org Bush in 30 Seconds ad contest – a spot that's already aired repeatedly on other networks – citing the Eye's long-standing policy of not airing ads on "controversial issues of public importance." In response, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws encouraged the network to decline airing the ONDCP's anti-drug ads during the game. According to recent polls, 72% of Americans favor marijuana decriminalization, NORML's Kris Krane noted in a press release, so the ONDCP's one-sided ad must be considered an "issue ad" and subject to the network's policy. On Jan. 23, the DRCNet reported that after reviewing the issue, CBS has declared the ONDCP ads as "noncontroversial."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Weed Watch, National Institute on Drug Abuse, White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy, ONDCP, drug testing, George W. Bush, John Walters, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, NORML, CBS, Drug Reform Coordination Network, DRCNet, Drug Policy Alliance, DPA

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