Federal Government Research:
Can It be Trusted?

In a nutshell: The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is firing a prestigious research organization because its evaluation study found the ONDCP’s anti-drug ads might be both ineffective and counterproductive. ONDCP wants different findings.

The story:

The Office of National Drug Control Policy spends $200 million each year on its anti-drug media campaign.

Unfortunately, the ONDCP ad campaign may actually backfire in spite of its enormous cost The only research study conducted found that the more of the ads some young people see, the more likely they are to try marijuana. That research, conducted for the past five years, was led by the prestigious Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

But the ONDCP desperately wants “proof” that the project works in order to justify congressional re-funding for another five years for another one billion dollars or more. Therefore, it’s unhappy with the Annenberg study, calling it “Rube Goldberg.” Dr. Robert C. Hornik, who directed the study, says it

“was the results (the government) didn’t like, not the study or its methodology. He points out that the ONDCP approved Annenberg’s methodology. Furthermore, he notes, the agency didn’t dispute the study’s finding that parents exposed to the ads were more like to talk with their kids about drug use and more closely monitor their behavior. The reason? “That finding was what they were looking for.” 1

Because the ONDCP didn’t get the evidence it wanted, almost certainly because the program is in fact ineffective or even counterproductive, it’s now shopping for a different organization to conduct the evaluation research.


  • 1. Kiley, David. Are anti-drug ads a big waste? The government has yet to prove that its $200 million-a-year media campaign is effective, leading to all sorts of carping. Business Week, October 5, 2004.