Sue Rusche

PARTNERSHIP FOR A DRUG-FREE AMERICA The Partnership for a Drug-Free America is a nonprofit coalition of the United States communications industries; its mission is to help reduce demand for illegal drugs by using the media to change the attitudes that affect drug trial and experimental (nonaddicted) use. The key officers of the organization are James E. Burke, chairman; Thomas A. Hedrick, Jr., president; Richard D. Bonnette, executive director; and Robert L. Caruso, chief financial officer.

The partnership was founded by Richard T. O'Reilly in early 1986 as a project of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. It was based on the idea by Philip Joanou, chairman of Dailey & Associates in Los Angeles, that the disciplines of marketing could be used effectively and efficiently over time to help ''unsell'' illegal drugs. The hypothesis was that prevention could be viewed as trying to affect individual decisions to buy or use illegal drugs in the same way that individual decisions to buy or use legal products and services are affected—except in reverse. Rather than using me dia messages on the benefits of a product, the partnership set out to reduce drug trial by building awareness of the risks and danger of using illegal drugs.

The Partnership's early strategy was based on a concept developed by Dr. Mitchell S. Rosenthal, president of the PHOENIX HOUSE treatment programs in New York. He theorized that the epidemic levels of drug use and addiction in the early 1980s was caused by a process of ''normalization''—to both the use and users of illegal drugs—since the mid-1960s. According to Dr. Rosenthal, we could not achieve significant progress in ''the war on drugs'' until we reversed that process and ''denormalized ' individual and subcultural attitudes toward illegal drugs.

The three primary functions of the partnership are (1) to understand consumer attitudes that affect the trial and use of illegal drugs; (2) to develop messages targeted to specific demographic groups; and (3) to deliver those messages to the public through all forms of the media, but primarily public-service announcements. These functions, managed by a small full-time staff, have been accomplished through the volunteer efforts of research firms, advertising agencies, production groups, and the media. As of the end of 1992, more than 300 antidrug print and broadcast messages had been delivered, at no cost to the partnership and valued at more than 50 million dollars. Since the program's launch in March 1987, the media have donated more than 1.5 billion dollars in advertising time and space.

The partnership's prevention messages are targeted primarily to preteens and young teens, innercity youth, and also parents, peers, and siblings, who are viewed as the key influencer groups. The focus of the messages is on building perceptions of risk and social disapproval, promoting resistance skills, and reinforcing a consistent tone of social denormalization in regard to illegal drugs. Overall media efforts are directed at achieving the goal of 1 million dollars a day in donated time and space. This results in the delivery of approximately one antidrug message per household per day. All major national media are visited personally by partnership staff to monitor the program. State and local media programs are also developed and supported through staff and volunteer efforts.

The organization's tracking research is funded by the NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE

(NIDA) and directed by the Gordon S. Black Corporation. The annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Survey (PATS) uses a centrally located sampling to evaluate attitudes toward illegal drugs among more than 8,500 preteens, teens, and adults. This research, along with other major NIDA studies and especially the HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR SURVEY done by the Institute for Social Research, suggests that since 1986 attitudes to illegal drugs have been changing. Furthermore, the surveys indicate that the partnership's messages have been a major source of information (among others) that helped effect these changing attitudes.

It is difficult to establish a scientifically conclusive cause-and-effect relationship between the partnership's efforts and U.S. trends in drug-use behavior. Many components are necessary— particularly community efforts—to reduce demand for illegal drugs, and it is unlikely that any one component is sufficient to the task. It is also imperative to note the importance of timing in this media effort, since the media are most effective in accelerating trends that are already in place. The media play a large role in American society and therefore in the lives of the children growing up in that society. The Partnership is mounting a very significant communications effort to influence the way Americans think about illegal drugs.

(SEE ALSO: Advertising; Prevention: Shaping Mass Media Messages to Vulnerable Groups; Prevention Movement; Prevention Programs)

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