The EMCDDA have reviewed the evidence for media campaigns aimed at preventing drug use by young people. They note that one in three affiliated countries say they either don’t run these campaigns or have significantly reduced funding to them.
We know that this includes the UK government which has cut spending on advertising the FRANK service year on year. I think it is clear that the content of the last set of adverts that FRANK weren’t trying to effect young people’s behaviour, rather the aim was to drive traffic to the website, helpline and other services provided by the government. Whether that’ll be true of the next set we’ll wait to see – I’m told there will be a focus on novel psychoactive substances over the summer period.
We have recently looked at other youth focused public health campaigns that Public Health England have inherited which aim to increase the positive conversations about health between peers and between parents and their children.
The conclusion the EMCDDA draw suggests that governments may be correct in being cautious in supporting this form of preventative action over other interventions given the current evidence.
The pooled analysis of studies found that media campaigns had no effect on reduction of use and a weak effect on intention to use illicit substances. Reports of possible unwanted effects in terms of young people declaring that after having watched a media campaign they were willing to try drugs raises concern. This is particularly relevant for prevention interventions, which are provided without a demand from the target population. Campaigns might affect individuals differently, depending on their level of awareness. However, being informed might not have a direct effect on behavioural change, while perception of norms (the perception that everybody is using drugs) may have an impact.
As a result they recommend that if campaigns are run they are only done so “in the context of rigorous, well-designed and well-powered evaluation studies.”