Methamphetamine Demand Reduction Campaign
Since the 1960’s, drug abuse has been viewed by the American public through different lenses. Some see it as strictly an enforcement issue – people breaking the law must be dealt with harshly and sent to jail. Others see it as a personal, moral failing – it is a “lifestyle” choice that people make, and they are only hurting themselves, so if they damage themselves, so be it. And, still others felt that it was a non-problem – drugs aren’t really that bad, kids are going to try them no matter what.
Very few people, from the 60’s through the ’80s, saw drug abuse as a health threat or a preventable behavior, or saw addiction as a treatable disease. These differing, contentious and polarizing attitudes created barriers to the development of effective prevention and treatment protocols and programs. To deal with this, the Partnership has long sought to reposition drug abuse as a health issue and has, unsuccessfully until recently, attempted to engage the medical community as an ally in this quest.
Based on Partnership research conducted in 2002, teen trial of illegal drugs was often viewed by parents as a rite of passage that was more or less bound to happen; experimentation was viewed as a law enforcement issue; and only dependent, regular use became a health issue in which the parents should intervene by forcing their children into “rehab” to get treatment for their problem.
Overall, illegal drugs were not seen by parents as a medical problem posing a threat to the health of their children. And, unlike other health threats where parents would spare no effort or expense to try to prevent them from affecting their kids, drug abuse prevention was a relatively unknown topic and rarely practiced by parents with any degree of depth beyond the routine “don’t do drugs” speech. Changing this attitude set among parents was targeted by the Partnership as a high priority goal in 2003.
The Partnership theorized that, if drug abuse could be successfully repositioned with parents as a health issue, parents would take a greater interest in learning more about it and take greater action in helping to prevent their children from being afflicted by it. In order to successfully do this, the Partnership reasoned, it would be necessary to affiliate with a program partner that has impeccable medical credentials in the eyes of parents.
After two years of discussions and negotiation, the Partnership forged a working relationship with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The agreed-upon plan concept was to 1) reposition drug abuse as a health threat to children; 2) help educate parents as to the threat of drugs, specifically meth and ecstasy; and 3) persuade the parents to talk to their kids and educate them about this threat as well.
- The Partnership would produce a public service advertising campaign comprising meth and ecstasy messages.
- Volunteer pediatricians, recruited by the AAP, would become community prevention spokespeople and bring, through the news media and personal appearances at parent groups and functions, the message of this threat to parents and the appeal to them that they can successfully, and must, get involved with their kids on this issue.
- To complement the public service advertising campaign, a public relations resource would be retained to gather and disseminate, through news media, real-person stories about experiences with meth. Additionally, the public relations resource would provide professional media training to the volunteer pediatricians and would coordinate their media interviews and public appearances. The doctors would receive additional training on the pharmacology of meth from experts in the field to better prepare them for their roles as prevention spokespeople.
The AAP agreed and the concept became a reality. With funding from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), pilot tests of this program were launched in St. Louis and Phoenix in 2003. Outcomes were measured by a quantitative survey, patterned after the Partnership’s 16-year Partnership Attitude & Tracking Study (PATS), in the two markets.
The results of the pilot tests exceeded expectations and produced positive results including statistically significant increases, 2004 v. 2003, in key performance measures.
1. There was a significant increase in parent perception that kids’ trying meth is a health problem carrying health risks.
2. There was a significant increase in teen perception that trying meth would pose a serious risk.
3. There was a high level of involvement of parents talking to their kids about meth and ecstasy in the past year.
4. Parents cited as the source of the information that influenced their positive behaviors the key media message channels that the campaign focused on.
Based on these results, the Partnership concluded that:
- Public relations and advertising served to effectively reposition meth and Ecstasy use as health concerns
- Health message and messenger, pediatricians, had positive impact on parent and teen awareness and key attitudes
- This campaign model is replicable and should be expanded to other markets as resources permit
The AAP was quite pleased with the results, not only from the research, but based on the experiences related to the organization by the participating volunteer pediatricians. They expressed willingness to participate in the expansion of this program.
Based on the success of this pilot program and with additional funding from the CHPA, the Partnership expanded the effort in 2005. New meth messages were created to refresh the advertising component of the campaign. The AAP continues its vital support and a significant number of new volunteer pediatricians have been trained and are actively engaged. The Partnership is discussing options for further expansion in 2006-7.
"I developed a much higher respect for social marketing by seeing the value and complexity of this function which seemed very ambiguous to me before."— Student at Boston College after AEF sent speakers from DigitasLBi