ONDCP targets teens with its $100m anti-marijuana push

WASHINGTON: The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will invest nearly $100 million over the next year to convince 14- to 16-year-olds not to smoke marijuana.

WASHINGTON: The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will invest nearly $100 million over the next year to convince 14- to 16-year-olds not to smoke marijuana.

The ambitious effort seeks not just to deliver an anti-marijuana message, but to effect comprehensive change in a young teenager's environment, countering what ONDCP officials call an increasingly pro-drug culture.

Schools, youth-oriented publications, parents, and even popular TV shows and movies are being recruited for the initiative.

"Look at the environment of these kids," said ONDCP director Alan Levitt.

"Turn on the TV or go to the movies, and you see all kinds of drug humor or actual drug use that trivializes or normalizes the use of marijuana.

Call up "marijuana" on the internet, and 75% of the websites are about how to grow pot or how to fool a drug test."

Influences such as these, Levitt claimed, coupled with a lax attitude by parents, have led to a dangerous environment of marijuana acceptance among young teenagers. Recent surveys by the National Institute on Drug Addiction suggest that 60% of teenagers who use drugs use marijuana exclusively, and the same percentage of teenagers who enter drug rehab do so to treat a marijuana addiction. Use among eighth-graders has doubled in the past decade.

In order to turn the tide, the ONDCP and its agency of record, Fleishman-Hillard, have launched the multi-front National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Much of the nearly $100 million price tag is devoted to advertising, but media relations and grassroots initiatives lie at the heart of the effort.

The ONDCP, always adept at using the entertainment media for disseminating its message, has been briefing film and TV writers on the issue over the past two months. "We've done about 17 background briefings so far for entertainment writers in LA and New York on marijuana in pop culture," said Levitt. The invite-only sessions generally include several experts on the issue, as well as affected teenagers and parents eager to tell their stories.

Writers have long been able to visit Drugstory.org, a site maintained by the ONDCP, to learn more about drug issues, to contact experts, and hear first-hand accounts. The site has been refitted with anti-marijuana content to facilitate the drive.

So far, schools in eight major cities have participated in "Wake-Up Call" rallies in which students stage a '60s-style march, complete with picket signs and giant alarm clocks, encouraging parents to "Wake up and talk to their kids" about marijuana.

Levitt also estimated that journalists in "about a dozen" cities in the US have received ONDCP briefings on the issue since October - a pace he looks to maintain throughout 2003.

Seventeen national organizations have joined the ONDCP to spread the message. The Child Welfare League of America, the National Crime Prevention Council, and the American Medical Association are just a few of the groups that signed an open letter encouraging parents to talk to kids about marijuana. The letter ran in more than 300 newspapers nationwide.

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