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February 2004
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Government agency spends our money, investigates self, says ‘It’s all good’

The Drug Czar’s office has given out yet another self-congratulatory press release: New Survey Shows More Teens Recognize Harms of Marijuana: Exposure and Effectiveness of Anti-Drug Advertising Continues to Rise.
This comes from their release of the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), which has become the method by which the ONDCP has decided it should be evaluated, ever since it kept getting negative results from independent studies.
PATS is generated by the Partnership for a Drug Free America, which is essentially a private arm of the Drug Czar’s office. The Drug Czar gets tons of taxpayer money to run advertising which gets special consideration and rates in the media, while the Partnership raises money to produce spots and run surveys that say the spots are working, which justifies bigger budgets for the Drug Czar.
Here are some of the results of the survey (pdf):

Teens in 2003 were significantly more likely than in 1998 to say there is a “great risk” of getting in trouble with the law, losing their driver’s license, missing out on the good things in life, not getting into a good college, becoming a dealer, acting stupidly and foolishly, getting depressed, becoming lazy, being lonely, becoming boring, getting hooked on marijuana, and driving dangerously.

Additionally, the study claims the most important result for future funding — showing positive results, yet still more work to do:

The PATS study also shows a steady decline in teen marijuana use since 1998. Despite these reductions in youth drug use, marijuana remains the most commonly used illicit drug among youth.

To understand this “study” better, let’s take a look at the Partnership that runs it. According to their mission:

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) exists to help kids and teens reject substance abuse by influencing attitudes through persuasive information. Our mission unfolds primarily in the form of a research-based national advertising campaign, now in its 17th year.

In other words, the results of the survey they are running determine whether their existence is justified. Can you say “conflict of interest?” I knew you could. In addition, since they depend on all the taxpayer supplied advertising dollars from the Drug Czar, they have additional incentive to insure good results.
Any other incentives? Well let’s look at the corporate and foundation support to the Partnership. Let’s see… in the $25,000 and above category, we have: Bayer Corporation, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark Foundation Inc., Novartis Consumer Health, Inc., Perrigo Company, Pfizer Foundation, Inc., Pharmacia Corp., The Procter & Gamble Fund, Schering-Plough Corporation, Wyeth/ Wyeth Consumer Healthcare. Recognize a pattern?

[Note: ONDCP, MediaCampaign, Freevibe, TheAntiDrug, and Partnership for a Drug Free America are all part of the “spend your money on propaganda and pretend it’s doing some good” collective.]

The full report itself is a joke in terms of scientific approaches to surveys (and reporting the results).
The report neglects to discuss the methodology or specific questions (although the use of some leading statements are obvious through the results shown, and we learn that the Partnership specifically was involved in creating the questions). The report itself is a piece of propaganda.
Check out the hyperbole in the intro:

No other organization in the country –
commercial, non-profit or governmental
– has the rich insights into consumers
and drugs that PATS has captured in its
16 installments.

Rich insights? Oh, come on.
Now this is supposed to be a formal detailed report showing the results of the study. Yet peppered constantly throughout the report are statements like:

Ecstasy can cause severe dehydration, seizures and strokes. It can cause dramatic increases in body temperature and can lead to muscle breakdown, which can cause kidney failure. It can lead to liver and cardiovascular failure, which have been reported in some of the Ecstasy-related fatalities….For more information on Ecstasy go to www.drugfreeamerica.org and visit the Drug Resource.

These are ads for the Partnership! The constant drug warrior statements throughout the study make it impossible to take seriously.
I was interested to note that they included questions about the internet. They asked “How often do you go to websites that encourage illegal drug use?” and “How often do you go to websites that discourage illegal drug use?” Hmmmm… How would they classify Drug WarRant? They don’t have a question for “How often do you go to websites that tell the truth about the drug war?”
The Drug Czar needs to be held accountable. And telling us that his mistress thinks he looks good doesn’t count.

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