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This is Your Brain On Drugs – 20 Years Later

This is Your Brain On Drugs

Some of you are likely to remember a series of public service announcements (PSA) made by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America ® for a nationwide anti-drug campaign called This is Your Brain On Drugs. The large-scale campaign was launched in 1987, in a different era, at least with respect to how the nation viewed drug addiction and what to do about what we now know to be a form of mental health disorder. The first PSA titled “Frying Pan,” has actor John Roselius frying ups some eggs in order to show viewers what drugs do to your brain.

The second iteration of the campaign was released in 1997 and was titled again, "Frying Pan." The PSA starred actress Rachael Leigh Cook essentially using a frying pan and an egg to demonstrate to viewers the inherent dangers that accompany using heroin, and presumably other drugs as well, but heroin was singled out. The 30 second clip highlighted the fact that one’s drug use didn’t only affect the individual, but rather one’s family and one could even argue society.

If you were not born yet, too young to remember or would like to refresh your memory, please take a moment to watch the short PSA:

If you are having trouble viewing the clip, please click here.

You can probably gather that the PSA’s toed the line of the American “war on drugs.” While the PSA’s attempted to scare people away from drugs, pointing out that they would take everything from you, even your life; the makers of the ads seemed to forget to mention that before drugs took your life, they could be a cause for losing your freedom. Both the aforementioned PSAs ending with the rhetorical statement, “Any Questions?” As if frying an egg or smashing up an apartment would say everything that needed to be said about the reasons for abstaining from drugs.

Any Questions About Addiction

While Entertainment Weekly named “Frying Pan” 8th best commercial of all time, the American Egg Board, naturally, had some concerns about eggs getting an unfair reputation. At the end of the day; however, This is Your Brain On Drugs was a scare tactic, as were all public service announcements about drug use going back to Reefer Madness. They were all created under the premise that drug use was a choice; you could choose to, or not, but the power was in your hands. If you chose wrongly, you risked everything.

Even though addiction is a disease, a symptom of which include the use of drugs, drugs are still for the most part illegal under both state and Federal law. For decades, as we have written about in the past, the 40+ year war on drugs has done little to prevent and treat substance abuse. What it has done is disenfranchise millions of Americans, mostly people who were low on the socio-economic spectrum and minorities. Getting caught up in the legal system for the crime of addiction has proven to be relatively easy, getting out of it has proven to be much more difficult.

Today, in the 21st Century and still in the grips of an opioid addiction epidemic, many people's views about the war on drugs have changed. Thanks both to science and the fact that the epidemic has predominantly affected white America (both rich and poor), our society has been rethinking the true cost of the war on drugs. And, as a result, more Americans than ever are advocating for addiction treatment over prison for those caught possessing illegal drugs.

We are not out of the woods yet. There are still swaths of lawmakers who cling to draconian drug policies as the solution to addiction. Which is why the fight to end the stigma of this most serious mental illness must continue. Which has not been lost on the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. The organization, with the help of a 20-years older Rachael Leigh Cook, decided to make a postscript to the 1997 PSA. In the new version of the “Frying Pan,” Cook says:

The war on drugs is ruining peoples' lives. It fuels mass incarceration, it targets people of color in greater numbers than their white counter parts. It cripples communities, it costs billions, and it doesn't work. Any questions?

Please take a moment to watch:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

Addiction Treatment Is The Answer

Effective measures of treating addiction were helping a significant number of Americans in 1987 at the start of This is Your Brain On Drugs. It wasn’t talked about, because it did not line up with the stigma-driven narrative of addiction employed at the time. It was being treated and people were living lives in recovery, just as they are today. Fortunately, people touched by the disease today have more of an ability to seek help, without fear of prosecution.

Now the science behind addiction, and other forms of mental illness is far better understood. With each year that passes, the stigma of addiction seems to soften. Slowly, but surely, more Americans see the value of ending the war on drugs and advocating for treatment. If you or a loved one has been touched by the deadly disease of addiction, please contact PACE Recovery Center.