GAO report says federal anti-drug Ad-campaign ineffectual

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The United States Government Accountability Office, an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress to investigate how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, has concluded that the $1.2 billion anti-drug advertising campaign conducted by the government since 1998 does not appear to have helped reduce drug use.

In its August 25, 2006, report entitled ONDCP Media Campaign: Contractor's National Evaluation Did Not Find that the Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign Was Effective in Reducing Youth Drug Use, the G.A.O. states that "reports and associated documentation leads to the conclusion that... the campaign was not effective in reducing youth drug use, either during the entire period of the campaign or during the period from 2002 to 2004 when the campaign was redirected and focused on marijuana use." It further suggests that the campaign "may have promoted perceptions among exposed youth that others' drug use was normal."

Making a recommendation on the spending aspects of this apparently failed program, the G.A.O. report includes the following: "Given that Westat's evaluation stated the campaign did not reduce youth drug use nationally, Congress should consider limiting appropriations for the campaign, beginning in the 2007 fiscal year budget until ONDCP [Office of National Drug Control Policy] provides credible evidence of a media campaign approach that effectively prevents and curtails youth drug use."

Tom Riley, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) says that the GAO report is "irrelevant" to his organization because it is "based on ads from 2.5 years ago, and they were effective, too," according to a report in USA Today . "Drug use has been going down dramatically. Cutting the program now would imperil (its) progress," according to Riley.

However, the anti-drug campaign had been criticized before. In 2003, the White House Office of Management and Budget called the campaign "non-performing" and said it had not demonstrated results.