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Does Partnership for a Drug Free America Oppose Random Student Drug Testing?

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As the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) parades around the nation promoting random student drug testing in schools, one of its biggest allies has remained conspicuously silent on this controversial issue. The Partnership for a Drug Free America (PDFA) has been the loudest "anti-drug" voice in America ever since its famous 1987 "This is your brain on drugs" ad and currently produces ad spots for ONDCP's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.

Yet despite extensive cooperation between the two organizations, PDFA appears not to have bought into ONDCP's hype surrounding random student drug testing. PDFA Parental Advisory Board Member Judith Kirkwood has vocally condemned the practice in the press and on her blog, calling it ineffective and invasive. Meanwhile, the PDFA website, which provides extensive "anti-drug" resources for families, only recommends drug testing at the discretion of parents, with suspicion of drug use, and under medical supervision.

For clarification, we contacted PDFA to verify the organization's stance on student drug testing. Surprisingly, their media contact was initially unprepared to address the issue. We eventually heard back from PDFA Deputy Director of Public Affairs Josie Feliz, who acknowledged that "We stay away from that a little bit. It's an individual decision for parents to make." Finally, when pressed, she said, "We don't have policy one way or the other on this."

Of course, saying drug testing is "an individual decision for parents to make," certainly sounds like a policy statement, and one which contrasts sharply with that of ONDCP. The Drug Czar has aggressively touted random student drug testing as a central tool in the effort to reduce drug use among youth. Indeed, his goal is without a doubt to collect urine from as many students as possible with minimal supervision and no individualized suspicion of drug use.

We can only guess why it might be that PDFA does not advocate random student drug testing, but possibilities abound:

*Tests frequently return inaccurate results.
*Numerous studies show testing does not reduce drug use.
*Testing treats innocent students as drug suspects.
*Testing encourages use of less-detectible/more dangerous drugs.
*Tests are easily obscured by cheating.
*Testing requirements discourage participation in extra-curricular activities.
*Testing requires school administrators to look at students' genitals while they urinate.
*Testing takes money away from programs that actually work.
*Testing distracts students and teachers from educational priorities.

Whatever their concerns may be, PDFA's unwillingness to promote random student drug testing is the correct position to take. It is unlikely that they would part ways with their colleagues at ONDCP -- undoubtedly a politically uncomfortable situation for them -- if they were not convinced that random student drug testing is the wrong answer in the fight to reduce youth drug abuse. All of this is symbolic of the growing consensus among physicians, addiction specialists, educators, parents, and students that these programs are severely misguided.

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Who funds PDFA

I think if you look at the major sponsors of PDFA, like legal drug companies for instance, they don't exactly want random testing to reveal the high numbers of people who abuse their own drugs.

No Policy

PDFA: "We don't have policy one way or the other on this," makes enough sense.

Drug testers are usually expected to produce some authentic looking results. Meanwhile, the PDFA gets funded to accomplish absolutely nothing. PDFA’s cushy little gig as an official propagandist for the almighty ONDCP beats the drug testing biz cold. So why should the PDFA promote or even concern itself with someone else’s reality trip?


I don't represent PDAF Policy

Hi Scott: Interesting that you would take my membership on the Parent Advisory Board as representing PDFA policy. It does not. We are a resource group of parents who have lost children to the disease of addiction or who whose children have survived by the slimmest thread of chance and luck that some of us call a miracle. We give feedback about our experiences and what parents need in order to help their kids. Like most volunteers on boards, we operate as independent humans who happen to be doing service work. What ever made you presume that we make policy? You have your agenda and parents have their agenda, which is obvious. We'd like our kids to live long lives.

Let's print the entirety of what I said in the column for clarity:

"Judith Kirkwood, a Fitchburg, Wis., mother says she knows from experience that drug tests are far from reliable. Her son, who is now 19 and sober, started doing drugs in middle school. “My son was using marijuana regularly by eighth grade and went on to cocaine, crack and heroin,” says Kirkwood, who is a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Partnership for a Drug-Free America and blogs about adolescent drug use at Throughout his drug use, Kirkwood says her son was being randomly tested to little avail.

“I know my son was able to use other kids’ urine for random drug screens at a credentialed medical lab. You literally have to have your eyes glued to kids’ private areas in order to ensure a clean screen, and I just don’t think our schools are equipped to perform the tests or that parents would accept that kind of scrutiny, and they shouldn't,” says Kirkwood.

She contends that as random drug testing in schools grows, so will the black market for ways to fool the test."

Now maybe you want to give a big cheer for no random drug testing in schools. Maybe you want to pick on PDFA, which is a wonderful resource for families in crisis. Maybe you've got a grudge against them because you associate them with prevention and that makes you feel, well, icky.

Why don't you do something useful like advocate for a Good Samaritan 911 number in all states so that when a person has overdosed or is having seizures, crackhouse dealers will perhaps consider calling for help if they know they will not be charged for possession. Or bug legislators to fund more drug courts so that people picked up with drugs can get treatment instead of go to jail. [I do not represent PDFA when I say that.] Look for the common ground. Judy Kirkwood

Thank you, Judy

I agree with everything you've said here. A few points for clarification:

1. I realize your opinions don't necessarily reflect those of PDFA, but I would have felt  funny writing the piece without mentioning you. Heck, I think it's great that you're talking about this. My conclusions are drawn from our conversation with PDFA, not your opinions.

2. It's true that PDFA doesn't make policy, but it does have influence. PDFA sells the "anti-drug" message at a time when the drug czar is trying to sell random drug testing in schools. I'm glad they aren't helping him.

3. There are things I disagree with PDFA about, but I haven't said anything negative in this piece. I support fact-based drug education and prevention, which I believe should ultimately replace handcuffs, jail cells, etc. PDFA's relationship with the notoriously dishonest ONDCP makes me uncomfortable, but drug prevention in and of itself doesn't make me "feel icky."

Advocating drug policy reform frequently invites accusations of naivety, but the truth is that I've seen a lot, as have many of my colleagues. You can imagine the sorts of false characterizations we are subject to on a daily basis. We believe drug abuse can be better addressed without this massive war, and we are motivated by compassion and experience, not cynicism and self-indulgence. I expand on this here.

Thank you for reading and responding to my post. I hope we'll hear more from you in the future. 


I don't represent PDFA Policy

It's late and I made a typo in my previous post.

Since posting, I've had a chance to peruse this site. Lots of information. Try not to demonize other organizations, as David asks in his editorial that others not demonize legalizing drugs, but instead be willing to talk about it.

I can see in comments posted about news reports with a stopthedrugwar spin that opinions here, as everywhere, are based first and foremost on personal experiences. REgarding content, just as the same statistics can be used to support or condemn an issue, logic can be used to build a case for or against any cause, as every student should learn in school. Take away the bias and I appreciate the solid reporting that's available.

While the debate rages, let's hope people keep in mind the kids who are dropping out of school, losing the ability to think and function, trying to commit suicide related to their depression over their addiction to drugs, and dying by accidental overdose. Judy Kirkwood


Drug addiction can be a terrible thing , agreed.Prohibition simply makes everything worse. The concept of "drug free america" is preposterous on it's face. America has never been, drug free, it is not now ,drug free,it will never be, drug free. The better way is regulation...and of course taxation.Prohibition actually promotes abuse. Yes, I said it, promotes...The best source for real answers is LEAP.

OK then

Good. We have discussed. I am so impressed with PDFA's commitment to become a dialogue rather than a monologue. I don't know enough about the politics of the whole picture to know who advocates what, but I do know what it's like on the ground trying to get kids, schools, parents, communities to face up to drug abuse problems and trying to find help for active, life-threatening drug use. Judy Kirkwood


Drug-Free is a problematic term, especially because there are so many kinds of drugs that we need and some drugs that are good when used one way and bad when used another. But there's another part to that name--Partnership. In promoting your cause of regulation vs.prohibition, don't assume you can never work with organizations whose names you don't like because you think don't "get" it. I would bet there are people who might agree with you and those who don't in just about every (sane) organization addressing drug abuse and addiction. It is an issue with many layers, not a political party. Judy Kirkwood

re: Drug-Free

This is interesting. For me, it's hard to take seriously anyone who thinks America can or should be "drug-free." The fire department doesn't go around saying they're going to end fires. Recognizing that fire is necessary, and sometimes even fun, they promote fire safety.

You're absolutely right that we find support in seemingly unlikely places. Because we all really do want the same thing, the debate shouldn't be personal; it's about how to best improve people's lives.

But not everyone in the drug policy arena acts in good faith. ONDCP, for example, has a long history of using lies to support their policy objectives. The Drug Czar very recently claimed that marijuana growers are "violent criminal terrorists" who want to help other terrorists kill Americans.

Anti-drug activist Steve Steiner lost his son to an oxycontin overdose. Ironically, he's now paid by Perdue Pharma, maker of oxycontin, to go around lobbying against medical marijuana. It's unbelievable.

Robert Dupont gives speeches about the effectiveness of drug testing without disclosing his profiteering in that industry.

Former Deputy Drug Czar Andrea Barthwell was caught fabricating sponsorships for a series of anti-marijuana lectures she gave in Illinois. She also called medical marijuana a "hoax," then got a job lobbying for a pharmaceutical company that bottles marijuana resin and sells it to MS patients.

I could go on all day exposing the fraudulent, often deranged behavior of prominent drug war supporters. These people are treated as experts in the press and their ideas continue to influence public policy. Unfortunately, because reducing drug abuse and protecting children are universally respected goals, anyone who claims to be advancing these things enjoys an undue presumption of legitimacy.

This is what we're up against, and it may help to explain why drug policy reformers sometimes become aggressive and emotional in our advocacy.

alcohol vs. marijuana

Does PFDA understand that alcohol is a drug? Does Judy Kirkwood? Shouldn't the correct phrase be "alcohol and other drugs"?

Demonize This

“…just as the same statistics can be used to support or condemn an issue, logic can be used to build a case for or against any cause, as every student should learn in school.”

Logic cannot be used to build a case for or against just any cause. The precise use of logic and reason provides a deterministic result that eliminates false assumptions (or causes). If some public school system advocates stupidity and ignorance in opposition to the tools of logic and science, or if they present all facts as mere opinions, they are promoting relativism and should be shut down and boarded up.

The people I encounter who use relativist arguments are usually religious fundamentalists, the very same group of people who spearheaded the drug war beginning in the 19th century, and the same type of people who recently conned America into invading Iraq. Truth means nothing to the relativist. In the business world, relativist know-nothings are called bozos because they screw up everything they touch. After awhile, one learns to avoid them like the plague. Their fitness for employment is usually limited to government jobs, such as the ONDCP/DEA, or the current faith-based, fact-free presidency of George W. Bush.

Despite any support the PDFA offers to the parents of kids who run into trouble with certain types of drugs, not all drugs are that troublesome. The PDFA erroneously claims they are, and that is where kids and parents part company.

We constantly hear that the wrong message about drugs should not be sent to young people, and yet with the prohibition-focused PDFA, it happens all the time. And when the right message is available, as it appears to be regarding the PDFA’s (or its affiliated members’) concern about the efficacy of drug testing (arrived at through logic and reason, no less), we see or hear nothing from the PDFA other than what gets posted to a couple of blogs.

The PDFA never does any field research to determine if the message they think they’re sending in commercial TV spots is the same message that is being received. The result: eight-year-olds laugh at PDFA commercials. Meanwhile, the PDFA continues to believe in their own pseudo-effectiveness, and manages to waste many more millions-of-dollars of taxpayer money each year to continue their useless spiel. In a truly results-oriented society, this would not happen.

Furthermore, I will continue to demonize organizations such as the PDFA because they deserve it, just as I intend to demonize the ONDCP, DEA, KKK, Republicans, Neo-cons, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the National Socialist Party (Nazis), the Christian Democrats in Europe and Australia, and any other political organization that champions propaganda, persecution, oppression and violence as a means of dealing with moral issues between consenting adults. That’s how it is.



And yet David asks that legalization not be demonized.

As I said earlier, my comments on drug testing, or in this forum, or on my blog, have nothing to do with PDFA policy, which has also been discussed--they don't have one on drug testing. To tell parents what to do in that regard dilutes their mission. My experience is that they're not a political organization. They do do results-oriented research, by the way. It was created by the ad industry. They know how to measure results of their campaigns. After reading comments here and on the site, I like that PDFA is a gentle organization. Parents have been battered enough.

It's a complicated landscape you describe. Say and do what you want. Nobody is stopping you. But getting bent out of shape over a name change is a little like the Senate and House wasting time censuring It diverts time and energy from things you can actually do something about now and dilutes your focus. Rant if you must. But I hope you also use that energy to tackle more important things.

You are very impatient with anyone who doesn't know all the information that you know and want to jump on your bandwagon.
By the way, what organizations are you affiliated with as a member and do you speak for them? Are you speaking for and their policies? Just curious. Well, not really. Gotta cook some supper.

Re 8 year olds laughing at PDFA ads; I think kids should always laugh at ads--or better yet not watch TV and be hooked in by the marketing of toys and other culture glamor. I believe the parents are the anti-drug ad is oriented toward parents, not kids. Parents aren't laughing at it. Quite a few of us cry a lot. And that's the way it is. Kids laugh and play. Teenagers think they can abuse drugs and alcohol without any consequences. College students drink too much and fall in the river and drown. And parents pick up the pieces, blame themselves, look for help for their other children, and wonder why people attack resources that can help them hold their families together and get help for sick kids.

Go after insurance parity, please. Kids die because parents can't pay for treatment or the wait time to get in is too long. Work on changing laws about prison terms for nonviolent drug abuse cases, please. Pick on the organization that calls its head a Czar if you must. That is most bizarre. But I hope you're looking around at your family members who may be suffering from drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. It would be ironic if you missed the opportunity to help your own child or niece or nephew or sibling get help because you're so angry at the organizations that might provide it. Happens all the time and to the best of us--those who work on the front lines of the addiction field and hear the stories every day. Addiction in your family slaps you harder than any of these fights against organizations will. Judy Kirkwood

Kids want the truth

The american public seems to be addicted to a "drug war" brought to them by big media /industry/ government. This "war" is not , the good fight. It has become problematic itself. This is just as intended by the big money behind it. ONDCP helping PDFA, and PDFA helping ONDCP, helping DEA, helping DARE, helping the incarceration industry at large. A vicious circle of hypocrisy and bureaucracy, now turned into a decency, faith and morals war ,issue, instead of a health issue. It's good that parents become involved in childrens decisions about drug use. But the desperate and dishonest techniques used by the federal government to demonise all "controlled substances" have gone badly sideways. "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of it's victims may be the most oppressive".

Drug War

I don't think the American public is addicted to a drug war. In my experience as a parent, and what studies reflect, is that parents don't know there's a drug war going on at all. Studies show they are resigned to their children using drugs and alcohol and don't think there's anything they can do about it. And I think everyone knows by now that DARE failed. Why even bring it up?

The point of my Mother Warriors "brand" is not to be at war with drugs. It's to fight for our kids' right to be safe in drug-free schools and to receive adequate healthcare and treatment for drug and alcohol abuse/addiction issues. And to fight for their survival when doors that should be open are closed, like just getting them to resources that can help them. It's about speaking up for what we need.

Judy Kirkwood, who does not speak for PDFA and whose opinions are her own and not affiliated with any agency.

alcohol vs. marijuana #2

Still don't know if PDFA or Judy Kirkwood understand that alcohol is a drug. Or do they think there is some sense in which marijuana is more of a drug than alcohol? Of course when it comes to physical addiction, overdose potential, serious/deadly health problems from chronic abuse, fetal syndromes, and reckless/sadistic behavior, it is alcohol that is much more of a drug than marijuana. Correct me if I'm wrong.


What is your point re alcohol and marijuana? Yes they are both drugs. The proper terminology is to refer to AODA altogether. I often shorthand to drugs because alcohol is a drug--a very potent, damaging legal drug.

What would make you think PDFA does not recognize alcohol as a drug?

Never mind. This is my last word. It's been interesting sampling the culture here. Lot of picking on names. Lot of anger and blaming. Interesting examples of spin. Good news feeds, though. Judy Kirkwood

alcohol vs marijuana- the usual stonewalling

One point is that the phrase alcohol and drugs is unfortunate because it implies that alcohol isn't a drug. Easy enough for an alcohol user who wants to to assume that it's therefore less dangerous than marijuana and other drugs. I bet a lot of people with alcohol problems don't understand that they have a drug problem.
Does PFDA ever use the phrase alcohol and other drugs?
I notice you didn't address my list of 5 life and death reasons why alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana. Drug warrior types like to put their hands over their hearts and solemnly pledge allegiance to liberty and justice for all. What a flaming crock that is.
If America want less kids using drugs, they need to stop producing so many children who are alienated and underloved, not to mention often impoverished.

Measuring Effectiveness

I was interested in how PDFA evaluates the success of its ad campaign, and I found this on PDFA’s website:

“Measuring Effectiveness -- The Partnership regularly assesses its effectiveness in achieving its mission. Since our inception, every donated dollar spent in developing our messages have been leveraged into $50 of media exposure--time and space. Millions of teens and their parents see and hear our messages every day. Independent studies consistently show a clear and direct correlation between exposure to Partnership messages and positive changes in teen attitudes and behavior.”

The PDFA statement about its effectiveness is a lie. There are no studies that show a clear and direct correlation between PDFA ads and changes in teen attitudes and behavior about drugs. After searching their financials, I found that what is referred to as a regular assessment of PDFA effectiveness comes from a New York marketing research group, Roper ASW (Audits & Survey Worldwide), and GFK NOP LLC, which are both part of GfK Media. In 2006, PDFA paid Roper ASW $244,125, and GFK NOP LLC $104,525 for “research.” These reports merely reiterate PDFA’s claims of effectiveness, but offer no details that can be compared with other data (cf: and .

Searching further, I found the following excerpt from an advertising trade journal called “Brandweek.” The article, entitled “Drug Money” by Daniel Hill was published in 1998. It can be read in its entirety at:

“Justifying the gargantuan ad effort, the PDFA formally cites three pieces of work--two can't yet be referred to as journal articles--to support their ads' efficacy and, in effect, ground their entire enterprise. One emanates from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, one from the Stern School of Business at New York University and the third from the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

Brandweek has learned the following regarding the three research projects:

- The lead author of the Hopkins study, Dr. Evelyn Cohen Reis, while standing behind her 1994 paper, now casts grave doubts upon the research techniques that support it. "I think [her respondents] were telling us what they thought we wanted to hear," Reis said. "You can't tell, based on the paper, that it [the advertising] actually works." She published a press-release-ready claim on the impact of anti-drug advertising: "Seventy-five-percent reported that they had decreased, stopped, or been convinced never to initiate drug use." Asked if the figure has "any validity," she said she didn't know, adding, "You can't prove it either way, whether they're just saying the 'right' thing."

- Despite years of effort, the NYU paper has not achieved publication. In fact, the lead author, Lauren Block, assistant professor of marketing at NYU, has recently withdrawn it from consideration. A fourth author, William Putsis, from the London Business School, was recently enlisted to provide further econometric support for the report. It will be resubmitted in about a year, Block said.

- The University of Michigan's Professor Lloyd Johnston, an adviser to the ONDCP, has never published his findings on the efficacy of PDFA advertising. Johnston has shared the data at professional conferences and also plans to publish in about a year.

The PDFA and ONDCP cling steadfastly to all three pieces of research, the only work the organization cites among the hundreds of academic articles extant on teens and drugs. In fact, Block's work is of particular importance since it actually analyzes the PDFA's own data from their first six years of operation. Meanwhile, Block said she has informed the PDFA that she's withdrawn her paper from publishing consideration to revamp it.

Given this trinity of ambiguity, the question arises whether the public and the media are footing the bill for a merely theoretical construct of many fine parapets and mom-and-apple-pie banners. The uncertainty, though, would not shock public health scholars. "There's no solid data that show the media campaigns create meaningful changes in behavior," said Lawrence Wallack, professor of public health at the University of California, Berkeley, who met with ONDCP in March of last year.

"My fondest wish is to get these campaigns rigorously evaluated," said William DeJong, lecturer on health communications at the Harvard School of Public Health, who consulted on the ONDCP campaign.

There is "no nice controlled study that unambiguously points to the ads' effectiveness," said professor Robert Hornik of the University of Pennsylvania, another consultant to the ONDCP.

PDFA's research chief Barbara Delaney declined, when asked to comment about the validity of the research, individually or collectively."



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