Nancy Reagan and the "Just Say No to Drugs" Campaign

Seeing Nancy Reagan in the public eye again got me to thinking about her “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign way back in the 1980s. I remember a lot of people really made fun of it way back when (calling it too simplistic, etc.). Don’t you think, however, that total avoidance is the best, most intelligent policy one can have regarding drugs-- just stay away from them!?! You would save yourself a lot of money, heartache, potential addiction problems, etc. if you just never start taking any illicit substances! (Or alcohol and tobacco!) I think Nancy gave some pretty good advice there! What do you guys think?

It’s certainly the path I took, although I am a social drinker. I did this for my own reasons, though.

Even though I was a teenager in the '80’s, and a bit of a Reaganaut, I can’t recall being swayed by the “Just say no” message much.

Can’t say it’s not good advice, though, and the advice I’m going to give my kids.

Obviously the world would be improved if people “just said no” to all kinds of illegal, destructive activities. Murder, rape, robbery, fraud … by all means we should say no to these things.

That in a nutshell was/is the trouble with “Just Say No” … people do make mistakes, they do commit acts that are harmful to themselves and society, and we have to deal with that maturely and honestly. The issue is complicated in this case by a simple, unpleasant fact: in the opinion of many folks, drugs feel good. As George Carlin says, these substances have been a part of our culture for thousands of years for a reason.

“Just Say No” was a nice motto for small kids, and it may have worked with some older goody-goody types who probably wouldn’t have strayed anyway, but it was an insulting simplification for savvier kids and a lousy formula for policy. While Nancy, Bill Bennett and the rest of the culture warriors were going after white middle-class pot smokers, crack cocaine was turning the inner cities into plague zones, and nobody in the administration gave a rat’s ass. Treatment programs were underfunded and the treatment approach itself was denigrated, largely because Nancy, Bennett et al saw drug abuse as a moral issue, not a public health issue or even a legal issue.

The line I remember hearing was “‘Just say No’ has about as much chance of treating drug abuse as ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ has of treating clinical depression.”

You have already bought into the rhetoric, by assuming that if you use drugs, you will spend a lot of money, or suffer addiction or medical problems. There are many things wrong with the “Just Say No to Drugs” (hereby JSNTD) campaign. First, they don’t discriminate between drugs. Under this treatment, marijuana supposedly has equal potential to cause addiction as methamphetamine. Or LSD is as dangerous to one’s health as PCP. That’s pretty disingenious. Instead of retyping, I’m just going to cut-n-paste an earlier post of mine, from this thread.

Every drug is different in effects and dangers. Illogical to lump them under a common label.

The following factors should be included as context, when discussing drugs:

* Dosage and toxicity at various doses: A drug may depress respiratory system at a high dose, but not be a problem at a lower one.
* Purity: Drugs are illegal. Hence, there's no QA out there. Street heroin can be anywhere from 5%-95% pure.
* Adulterants: What's the other 95% in 5% heroin?
* Method of administration: IV, Oral, Nasal, IM...etc Onset, duration, intensity, physical effects may vary.
* Psyche of User: Open towards drugs or ignorant or paranoid?, implusive or cautious, extrovert or shy, optimist? These do make a difference to the drug experience..
* Set of User: Mood the user is in just prior to ingestion and during experience (depressed/anxious/implusive/joyful) and what the user expects the drug experience to be like. These expectations, in drugs like LSD, often serve as self-fulfilling predictions.
* Setting: environment (home, outside, club, surrounded by strangers or friends, music, control over what you're doing or where you're going)
* Physical effects during experience: pupil dilation, heartrate, breathing...
* Psychological effects during experience: paranoia, euphoria, empathy, anxiety, anger...etc
* Long-term physical effects from casual use: alcohol/cirrhosis, speed/weight loss or liver problems...
* Long-term psychological effects from casual use: depression, memory & learning
* Long-term physical effects from chronic use: physical dependence or organ damage...
* Long-term psychological effects from chronic use: long-lasting depression, memory impairment...

Now, when considering whether a drug should be legal/illegal, IMHO, you should construct a model where the drug is legal and then enumerate the unacceptable or risky elements within that model. So, under this method, the following health hazards of heroin are not considered: HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, collapsed veins. Why? Because pure heroin is relatively non-toxic (cite, cite 2 (search for non-toxic), cite 3(search for toxic)). The “health hazards” disingenuously listed by the DEA for heroin relate mostly to IV administration (e.g. sharing of dirty needles), adulterants, unknown dosage (due to unknown purity). These all directly stem from heroin being illegal. If heroin were legal and regulated, you would be able to buy say, a 100 mg tab of 100% or 90% heroin, cut with harmless adulterants. Users wouldn’t then even have to inject it, due to the purity or alternative commercially developed safe modes of administration. So, DEA and NIDA warnings about drugs should be taken with a pinch of salt. Other things to look out for, are how deaths due to drugs are calculated and presented. Should a death due to street heroin caused by adulterants, be counted as a heroin death? What about death due to Ecstasy, when death is due to excessive rehydration, leading to hyponatriema, and not by Ecstasy, per se? How are these deaths even verified? In Julie Holland’s book (linked below), it’s mentioned that a drug is associated with a death, if there’s anecdotal information to suspect use of the drug. IOW, if I take a pill, believing it to be Ecstasy, and then collapse and subsequently die, and my friend reports to the police that I consumed Ecstasy that’s the end of the matter, as far as verifying what I actually consumed. Never mind that lot of these “Ecstasy” pills do not even contain MDMA or just MDMA. What about all the deaths “due” to cocaine? Jacob Sullum says the following on 1988 New York homicides identified as “crack-related”, in his book(linked below): 85 precent grew out of black-market disputes, while about 7 percent occured during crimes committed to support a crack habit and Only one homicide out of 118 involved a perpetrator who was high on crack. The most common motive for the black-market homicides was “territorial dispute,” followed by “robbery of drug dealer,” “assault to collect debt,” “punishment of worker,” “dispute over drug theft,” and “dealer sold bad drugs.” Should these killings even be counted as symptoms of the drug, when considering a legal model? How many addicts would commit crime if heroin was 100 times cheaper? As per the Economist survey (linked below), a 1-kilo opium crop sold for $1000-$3000 in Pakistan, fetches upto $300K as heroin, in NYC. This price jump is due to the unregulated nature of the undustry, and kickbacks and costs involved with keeping the trade running. Anti-drug organizations, like any politically backed venture have an agenda. And that agenda isn’t necessarily virtuous, pure or possessed with an honest outlook, despite the PR.

On analysing the drug war and possible reform, here are some links to books and articles

*Economist survey, outlines the current War on Drugs, the economics behind drug production and distribution, drug use and abuse and social implications. Explores alternative public policy.
*Saying Yes:In Defense of Drug Use by Jacob Sullum, editor at Reason

  • Illegal Drugs: A Complete Guide to Their History, Chemistry, Use and Abuse by Paul M. Gahlinger.
  • Ecstasy: A Comprehensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA by Julie Holland, M.D.
  • Erowid: A site that claims to provide balanced information on drugs. Doesn’t explicitly advocate drug use. Comprehensive repository on drug information.
  • Lycaeum: mostly concentrates on technical information about drugs.

The only thing that I remember changing after “Just Say No” was that suddenly it was a hell of a lot easier to score good stuff. It was virtually impossible to find crappy weed for sale anywhere.

The above was, of course, reported to me secondhand. One, such as I, as pure as the driven snow, would never know anything from personal experience.

And it was incredibly over simplistic, and equated every illegal substance as equally bad. Naturally, it was doomed to fail due to the large numbers of informed drug users at the time.

Well, I wasn’t thinking about “treating drug abuse” as much as “preventing drug abuse” from occurring in your personal life by taking the responsible choice of not starting to begin with!

You have already bought into the rhetoric, by assuming that if you use drugs, you will spend a lot of money, or suffer addiction or medical problems. ----------
No, I realize it is not inevitable-- there are plenty of people who use drugs who never become addicts. My point is that no one actually plans on becoming an addict (well, hopefully not!). The only way you can be absolutely certain that you will not, though, is to never take the first drink/smoke/joint/needle/whatever. It seems a simple choice to me – then again, maybe I am just a simplistic thinker!

Couched in your terms, gytfal, there’s not much to debate—yes, the best way to never suffer the adverse affects of drugs is to never take them. Ditto the best way to avoid pregnancy is to be celibate, the best way to avoid heartbreak is to never fall in love, the best way to avoid car accidents is to never drive, and so on.

If you’ve made the choice to abstain from drink and drugs and you feel it works for you, good for you. But “Just Say No” was more than a piece of advice: it came to encapsulate a single, one-size-fits-all approach to a massively complex social, legal, and medical problem. I think “Just Say No” probably did more harm than good in the long run, though I’m sure it also helped keep a few people clean in the process.

But she was on Diff’rent Strokes!!!


According to a blurb in The Clothes Have No Emperor by Paul Slansky, Nancy told this tale on the sitcom:

Um, I would think if someone was “burned out” on pot, they’d hardly have the momentum enough to “brutally beat” someone.

So what would happen if drugs (other than alcohol)were legalized?
Some say everyone would take them.
Others say crime would go WAY down.Whos right?

Does anyone know if President and Mrs. Reagan drank alcohol? I’m just curious.

I really don’t know much about Ecstasy at all except for one TV program that I saw about six weeks ago – PBS, I think. According to this documentary, Ecstasy seems to have been banned for no other reason than than it provided an altered state of consciousness. There was never evidence that it was dangerous at all before it was made illegal.

Once it became illegal and impure, there were some problems, but nothing compared to the problems caused by prescription drugs. This particular program said that once thorough investigations were made, New York City could document only two deaths from Ecstasy. (I assume that was in a year’s time – certainly not less than that.) There were probably more deaths from eating shellfish.

(See. Leviticus said you shouldn’t eat shellfish.)

A glass or two of red wine a day aids digestion and is also good for the heart. That’s how the French can get away with indulging in sauces, foie gras, and cheeses.

No one ever plans on becoming obese when they’re old either, but the pounds do have a way of catching up with you and they can do horrible things to your health. When someone develops a way of getting all of your nutrients through a daily pill, will you give up eating?

Moderation, education, caution.

I’m the kind of person, who when told I shouldn’t do something, or that I can’t do something, or that I’ll fail at something, almost automatically goes out and does it. So in that regard, a simplistic campaign with a simplistic slogan, is a surefire way to encourage me to go against it.

The other problem is that if I had said “no”, I never would have discovered for myself why I maybe should have “said no” to some things, while other things weren’t damaging to me at all. I never became an addict, never experienced heartache (?), didn’t throw away my life savings.

There’s just no hard, fast rule for human nature that can be solved by a silly little slogan. Addiction is a complicated matter. And people become addicted to many other things besides illegal drugs: prescription drugs, sex, gambling, eating, shopping, and on and on. Like Nonsuch said, it was probably an okay motto for little kids, but that’s probably about it.

I’d say that it’s the kids who stayed away from drugs who were truly being a lot more savvy!

I am hardly a Reaganite, and was never a fan of Nancy’s, either–but I always wondered why she was so pilloried for the “Just Say No” campaign, which I thought the height of good sense and responsibility.

Of course it’s not going to work for everyone–nothing is–but, really, “just say no” is excellent advice.

I ‘just said no’ to drugs; unfortunately, drugs wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

It’s terrible advice. It teaches you to fear drugs; to remain ignorant about them. It says that there are no nuances. The issue is black & white; that drugs are “bad” things and you should stay away at all cost.

Drugs are a problem because they are novel, taboo and exotic in the mainstream culture. The best way to minimize the drug “problem” is to embrace them, scrutinize them and then get bored of them.

Whan you think about it, “Just say no” was the perfect Republican social-works program:
[li]It didn’t require spending any resources.[/li][li]It didn’t require taking any action.[/li][li]It was critic-proof.[/li][li]It was nuiance-proof.[/li][li]It reduced a complex problem to oversimplistic terms.[/li][li]It encouraged mindless, unquestioning acceptance.[/li][li]If someone failed the program, then you could just blame the victim.[/li][li]It offered plenty of opportunities for feel-good photo ops.[/li][/ul]

Of course, it also didn’t do a damn lick o’ good, but I don’t believe Ron and Nancy gave two toots about that.

I wonder how many youngsters were sitting there with a pipe in front of them about to take their first toke, when the face of Nancy Reagan appeared in front of them and said, “Come on, Tom, Just Say No,” causing them to rethink their place in life, get up, and go home to sew American flags or something.

On the other hand, you can’t really protest against it, because as rjung and others pointed out, it is of completely null value and cost.

The negative part about the program, like the Bush abstinence program, is if you rely on it ONLY. It is well and nice to tell the kiddies not to have sex and do drugs and listen to that rock and roll, but you also have to step up and help out the ones who do make mistakes instead of sitting back and saying, “we told you so.”

Nice one, rjung.