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National Institute on Drug Abuse -  NIDA NOTES
Volume 15, Number 5 (October, 2000)

NIDA Launches National Media Campaign to Prevent Drug Abuse by Youth

By Josephine Thomas, NIDA NOTES Contributing Writer

The theme of NIDA's newest national media campaign is "Keep your brain healthy. Don't use drugs." The campaign features radio and television announcements with blunt messages that warn young people about the damage drug abuse can do to the brain, both in the short and the long run. The announcements, in English and Spanish, have been sent to more than 3,000 media outlets (2,000 radio stations and 1,200 television stations).

"We want to make it clear that drug use cannot be considered recreational," said NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner at a September press conference to announce the new campaign. "Not only do drugs have serious effects on the brain while an individual is under the influence, but these effects may do permanent damage to the brain.

Dr. Drew Pinsky and Dr. Alan Leshner

NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner and Dr. Drew Pinsky with the teenage actors who appear in NIDA's new public service announcements.

"The college student who sees himself or herself as a 'social' user or the teen who is only 'trying it once' doesn't sense any real danger until it is too late," Dr. Leshner said. "Drugs can so rapidly and dramatically change the brain that the brain is basically hijacked. For example, recent research shows that even occasional use of a drug such as cocaine can desensitize the brain so that a user needs ever-increasing amounts to achieve the same effects he or she experienced when first using the drug. As time passes and drug use continues, a person goes from voluntary to compulsive drug use. This change occurs because, over time, use of addictive drugs changes the brain-at times in dramatic ways, at other times in more subtle ways, but always in destructive ways that can result in compulsive and even uncontrollable drug use. That is the essence of addiction."

Dr. Leshner said he hoped that this campaign would provide young people and their parents with understanding that goes beyond the simple message not to use drugs. The public service announcements have been designed to be suitable for children, and one has a second version that adresses parents specifically. The public service announcements also can be viewed at

One of NIDA's partners in promoting this message is Dr. Drew Pinsky, who discussed young people's concerns, including relationships and sexual behavior, on the TV show "Loveline" and offers advice on the Web site Dr. Pinsky, who also spoke at the press conference, is medical director of the Department of Chemical Dependency Services at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena, California, and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Los Angeles Children's Hospital. He has devoted much of his professional career to getting out the message to young people that drugs can permanently damage health.

"The drugs that young people are abusing today are extremely dangerous," Dr. Pinsky said. "Young people think they need to feel better and it seems to them as if drugs work. But in fact, drugs have profound effects on their brains." Other partners in the campaign include Major General Arthur T. Dean (retired), CEO of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, a national organization that represents more than 5,000 community-based coalitions, and Sue Rusche, executive director of National Families in Action, a drug education, prevention, and policy center based in Atlanta, Georgia.

NIDA NOTES - Volume 15, Number 5

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