Study pushed by White House questioned

WASHINGTON: The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is trumpeting a new study of US teens to prove that its $100 million-a-year anti-marijuana campaign is having an impact, but critics accuse the office of ignoring another study that suggests otherwise.

WASHINGTON: The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is trumpeting a new study of US teens to prove that its $100 million-a-year anti-marijuana campaign is having an impact, but critics accuse the office of ignoring another study that suggests otherwise.

Monitoring the Future (MTF), an independent study group that tracks substance use among teenagers, released a survey in December showing that drug use declined 11% over the past two years among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. ONDCP officials seized on the information, publicly crediting their recent ad and grassroots campaign (PRWeek, December 2, 2002) with the decrease. President Bush then cited the statistics in last week's State of the Union address.

Statements sent out by the ONDCP last month read: "When President Bush released his first National Drug Control Strategy in February 2002, he set aggressive national goals to reduce youth drug use by 10% in two years and 25% in five years. Today's release of the 2003 Monitoring the Future Study confirms that [his] two-year goal has been exceeded."

But critics are pointing to another federally commissioned study, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and private research firm Westat, which, unlike the MTF study, sought to determine whether exposure to the campaign impacted behavior - and found it did not.

"Youth who were more exposed to campaign messages are no more likely to hold favorable beliefs or intentions about marijuana than are youth less exposed to those messages," read the report.

An ONDCP official acknowledged the existence of the second report, but said the White House was favoring the MTF study because it was "the largest and most accurate study we have."

"MTF asks [teens] about attitude, and there's been a definite shift in attitude over the past two years," said the spokesman. "Asked where they got their information, they say PSAs. It doesn't specifically ask, 'Are they ONDCP media campaign PSAs?' but look at the landscape. Who's showing ads on TV against drug use? This is where the attitude shift comes from."

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