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Children Should See the Horrors of Drug Use

07/24/2015 12:33 EDT | Updated 08/07/2016 05:59 EDT
Spencer Platt via Getty Images
ST. JOHNSBURY, VT - FEBRUARY 06: Drugs are prepared to shoot intravenously by a user addicted to heroin on February 6, 2014 in St. Johnsbury Vermont. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin recently devoted his entire State of the State speech to the scourge of heroin. Heroin and other opiates have begun to devastate many communities in the Northeast and Midwest leading to a surge in fatal overdoses in a number of states. As prescription painkillers, such as the synthetic opiate OxyContin, become increasingly expensive and regulated, more and more Americans are turning to heroin to fight pain or to get high. Heroin, which has experienced a surge in production in places such as Afghanistan and parts of Central America, has a relatively inexpensive street price and provides a more powerful affect on the user. New York City police are currently investigating the death of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman who was found dead last Sunday with a needle in his arm. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

We need our children to see more accurate depictions of what drug use looks like. They need to see what a needle going into a vein looks like and frightening images of addicts who overdose. In a world that is moved by images instead of words, maybe we need to see the vile result of drug use, raw and real.

I speak from the perspective as a mother. A darn protective one. I have a teenage daughter. Beautiful, sassy, smart and purveyor of all things -- but I worry for her 24/7. I fear for her. I sometimes dread the world she lives in. Believe it or not, the furthest fear I have is that one day she comes home pregnant. She won't. There is so much in your face info on safe sex from schools, doctors and social channels, she is virtually bombarded with safe sex messaging. And reality TV has only compounded the fact that being 16 and pregnant is SO NOT COOL!

I worry about how easily she can find, source, buy and become involved with drugs. She, along with many like her, can be seduced by peers, movies, music and her social conversations. Cocaine, heroin, MDMA, meth, crack, have amassed such an underground brand loyalty, following and influencer program you would think it was a legitimate operation paying a global marketing firm to keep up the "brand image."

The business of drugs is beyond entrepreneurial brilliance; from a commerce and marketing perspective, the product scores high marks on all 4 Ps of classic marketing: product, place, price and promotion. Dealers have a product that is desired and well-known, priced to sell in any market condition, available anywhere, anytime and is promoted freely through word of mouth by influencers, role models and a pedigreed peer group.

Illegal drugs have become so mainstream and prevalent and part of popular culture that lyrics like "dancing with molly and trying to get a line in the bathroom" by Miley Cyrus are not even bleeped out on mainstream radio. (Frankly, I had to ask my daughter if Miley was dancing with a high school friend named Molly!!??)

How do we compete against the proliferation of illegal drugs in our communities? I know law enforcement is convicting dealers and seizing drugs crossing the border. But let's face it, we won't catch everything and drugs will find a way through our porous Canadian border system. These drugs travel right into our neighbourhoods, schoolyards and ultimately into the hands of our children.

If we can't stop the infiltration of drugs, then maybe it's time to market the disturbing truth of drug taking in a way to get our youth to really take notice and action. Let's get social on taking drugs.

Why not show the seedy, disgusting underbelly and sickening adverse effects drugs have on us feeble humans? Images of a deviated septum, busted arm veins, chronic bleeding noses, rotten teeth, fetal effects, undernourished human bodies, etc. Horrifying images of what drug use has on the human body. Visceral images that make one think "that's repulsive, I'll never do that."

We usher in a movement that illustrates and encourages dialogue about the revolting face of what drugs do: destroy the human spirit, decay our bodies, ruin families, and ultimately lead us to an early grave. There is NO glamour in drug use, no matter what Kanye is singing about.

Our youth is transfixed with social media, they hold onto their smartphones as part of their vital appendage, hey are consuming images, text and videos online at unprecedented rates and speeds. We need to invade the territory they navigate. We need to populate and infiltrate their online world conversations with sordid images of the genuine world of drug use. Pop up unexpectedly where are they live socially and show an unvarnished truth about drugs. Perhaps we start it all conversationally -- and use images to nail home the ugly truth. Let's face it, we can't be that intrusive.

If history has taught us anything, it is that images speak louder than words. We have used images and dialogue before to dissuade consumers against a substance that is highly addictive, dangerous and killing thousands of Canadians every year. Tobacco.

In Canada the Tobacco Products Information Regulations was passed as part of the Tobacco Act in 2000. We were the first country in the world to implement the regulated set of 16 pictorial images on cigarette packages. Under the law, the top 50 percent of the front and back of each cigarette pack must depict one of the 16 full-colour, in-your-face, disturbing warnings. These warnings included a diseased mouth, lung tumours, a brain after a stroke, a damaged heart and a limp cigarette representing a limp... well, you know what that means.

In a 2001 survey funded by the Institute of Cancer Research of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, 90 per cent of Canadian smokers said they had noticed the new warnings, 43 per cent said they were more concerned about the health effects because of the warnings, and 44 per cent said it motivated their attempts to quit.

And in the Tobacco Control Journal, a recent study found that graphic warning labels on cigarette packs led to decreased smoking rates in Canada of between 12 per cent and 20 per cent from 2000 to 2009.

Hmmmmm so images work right?

I've been in the field of marketing and communications for more than 25 years, basically, I'm an expert of sorts. I've promoted more products and services to consumers and businesses and made a lot of companies and shareholders a crap load of money by promoting just stuff. But I have not seen any company, any marketer, Government or any NGO step up to the plate and take on the challenge of attacking the use of illegal drug use in a provocative or compelling way. No one.

I think it's time we mount an aggressive and offensive in your face social media campaign against drug use. Frankly, who the hell can stop it? There is no group of "Concerned Cocaine Users," no "Mothers for Meth" and certainly no "Heroes for a Healthy Heroin Coalition." No one can stop a legitimate socially smart marketing campaign that encourages conversation and reveals the ugly human abuse of illegal drug use.

We need to talk to our children.

Hollywood, socialites and the music industry have glorified and continue to glamorize drugs, they have made it sexy, exciting, playful, powerful and even aspirational.There are movies and songs that make drug use sound like a Public Service Announcement.

If our youth is exposed to the use of illegal drugs as a positive influence in the name of "art," then we have every right to show our kids what drugs actually do to the human condition. It RIPS US APART.

The Canadian Government created policy that was instrumental in lowering the adoption of tobacco use with a provocative image campaign targeted right to the end user, why can't we do the same for the underground economy of illegal drugs?

Drugs kill, can't we show the ugly truth?

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