Justice

These Ads Expose the Failure of the Drug War

Actor Rachael Leigh Cook put a new spin on a classic anti-drug commercial that aired in the 1980s, using the style of the ad to highlight the harms of the war on drugs.


Instead of fear mongering about how drugs fry your brain, the new ad — released in partnership with the Drug Policy Alliance on Thursday — called attention to how tough-on-crime drug policies contributed to mass incarceration and disproportionately affects minorities.

"The war on drugs is ruining peoples’ lives. It fuels mass incarceration, it targets people of color in greater numbers than their white counter parts," Cook said. "It cripples communities, it costs billions, and it doesn’t work. Any questions?"

In contrast, here's the original ad, produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) in 1987.

The remake satirizes the organization's extreme anti-drug campaign, which attempted to scare Americans away from drugs through a series of sensationalized advertisements. Like this one, where a kid navigates through dark stairwells and hallways as shadowy figures peer pressure him into taking drugs.

Or this one, which stokes fears about drug use in the suburbs.

The organization also made marijuana-specific ads in the 1990s, releasing several commercials that depict cannabis users as lazy and unmotivated

But as ATTN: recently reported, the sentiment that runs through these commercials — the Reagan-era "just say no" anti-drug campaign — didn't get results. Youth drug use spiked in the 1990s, and it only started declining in the 2000s. Last year teen drug use hit a record-low, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.