The Ultimate Drug Strategy Increasing Public Outrage Against Drug Use

By Daniel Bent

Lasers are beams of ordinary light that are made powerful by the fact that the individual waves of ordinary light are in sync, aligned and concentrated in a manner consistent with the laws of physical science. Our efforts at drug prevention policy can be made extraordinarily more powerful if we understand the science of what makes members of a community intolerant towards drug use and concentrate our individual messages consistent with that science to motivate the majority to actively stand up against permissive drug policies. This paper explains how.

What is necessary is educating the vast majority who don’t use drugs about how other people’s drug use negatively affects them. This can create a social climate hostile to drug use. Such a change can bring back an America where drug use is negligible. Achieving that change in public attitude should be a major element of the future strategy against drugs.

Educating Drug Users is a Waste of Resources: Here’s Why –

Attempting to educate current drug users is a waste of drug education resources. For drug users, drug education is up against the basic reward or survival mechanism of the brain. Reason and cognitive thought are simply no match for a chemically stimulated reward center of the brain.

A drug user who has had the pleasure or reward mechanism of their brain intensely stimulated by cocaine or crack, as obvious examples, or those who use depressants and thus avoid anxiety and pain are unlikely to modify their drug using behaviour in response to drug education. An explanation of the brain and its operation demonstrates why.

First, pleasure is the brain telling the body that what it did to achieve the pleasure was what it should do and that it should do it again. Two familiar primary natural stimulators of the pleasure or reward mechanism are food and sex. This principally takes place deep in primitive areas of the brain. It is our basic survival mechanism. Areas of the human cortex were added to assist humans to achieve such pleasure and avoid pain to improve the chance of survival. For example, some of the cells added to the cortex enabled humans to see in colour and thus enabled the more successful gathering of edible fruit. Thus the additional cortex was not a substitute for the existing reward mechanism but served it.

Second, the forebrain which is a large part of the cortex which allows us to learn in the sense of drug education or indeed any “thinking” process was also designed to increase our ability to obtain those things that stimulate the reward mechanism with pleasure or increase our ability to avoid pain. It allowed us to engage in cooperative hunting, planning, and other behavior to improve our survival.

When the reward mechanism is “hot-wired” by drugs, an attempt through education to change drug-using behavior is likely to be rejected. When the reward mechanism already has its pleasure, the operation of the forebrain is superfluous and the natural process of reward from the use of the forebrain is unused. This was demonstrated during an experiment at Concordia University in Montreal where rats were given unlimited access to cocaine. They rejected opportunities for food and sex in favour of the drug.

Cigarette addiction is a clear example of this phenomenon. There is hardly a smoker now that does not cognitively understand that chronic cigarette smoking is harmful to their future health. They understand it but are not likely to act on that understanding in the face of the message that the reward mechanism receives when a smoker lights up a cigarette. The cigarette “hot wires” the reward center of the brain by stimulating it and provides an immediate message of reward, i.e., pleasure. After frequent reinforcement from repeated smoking a competing cognitive message via the forebrain that smoking is harmful is superfluous. In other words, once the reward center of the brain has a direct means of stimulation, the rest of the brain processes are simply not any competition.

Drug use in America has been seemingly intractable because the power of drugs over the reward center of the brains of drug users is so powerful. There is, however, a way to use the power of the brain s marvellous survival mechanism to increase the effectiveness of drug education.

Engaging the Survival Mechanisms of Non-Drug Users:

What can be done for impact is education of a different sort. That is educating non-drug users how other people’s drug use affects them. With this form of education, the survival mechanisms of the brains of non-drug users will be stimulated to protect their interests and survival by asserting their strong opposition to drug use by others in their communities.

Americans by nature tend to respect each other’s freedom to do what they want. We will tolerate the behaviour of others that we personally reject for ourselves. This tolerance has its limit. The limit is when we perceive that the behaviour is directly affecting us–our quality of life or in more fundamental terms, the quality of our survival. What takes place at this point is that our survival mechanism, the reward centers of our brains, react to the threat to our interests from other people’s behaviour and we take action to address and oppose it.

Again the smoking issue provides an extraordinary example. For decades we knew that a cigarette smoker was affecting his or her own health. Only a small handful of American cities and towns enacted smoking bans in public places. Then the Surgeon General of the United States and the National Academy of Sciences issued simultaneous reports finding that non-smokers’ health is affected by incidental second hand smoke. Overnight, cities across the country enacted ordinances limiting smoking to public places. Many enacted ordinances against smoking that would have been impossible even immediately before these highly publicized reports. More important, in a sudden shift of behaviour, non-smokers began to express their intolerance of smoking directly in both social interaction and in the workplace. The difference -non-smokers finally understood that other people’s cigarette smoking affected them. They did what Americans will do when they perceive their personal interests are negatively affected. They took action.

In order to use such self-interest to turn public opinion against drug use, drug education should be focused in large part on educating non-drug users how other people’s drug use affects them. Self-interest works to make people more productive. It’s the basis of our economic system. It can work here too. Indeed the “parent drug prevention movement” has been one of the most effective quarters in bringing positive action to bear on the drug issue because parents are driven to protect their children. They are simply an extension of their own self-interest.

We already do this brand of drug education to some extent, albeit serendipitously. News reports of the Baltimore Conrail crash in which sixteen passengers died when the pot smoking train engineer failed to notice a warning signal taught non-drug users of the harm from other people’s drug use. Reports of drug use among air traffic controllers, school bus drivers and pilots are examples of the same. It has been effective. We simply need to focus our energy into such targeted drug education to effectively pursue the ultimate strategy of turning public opinion into outrage against drug use.

If one group’s survival mechanisms are engaged on an issue and the majority’s is not, the first group will continue to push their issue and do whatever it takes to prevail. It has been called the “iron law of political economy”: “The many with a small interest, is no match for the few with a big one.” This is the circumstance we face on drug use in America. To prevail we must engage, as occurred with the tobacco use issue, survival mechanism vs. survival mechanism. This has the potential for achieving a society that is intolerant of drug use and those who promote it. With that we will be within reach of returning again to a drug-free America.

Enough for the Theory – Here are Examples of How To ….

The following are examples of proposed public service advertisements that are written pursuant to the strategy discussed above:


Two people sit facing the camera in what appears to be a poorly lit room. The field of view is their faces and upper torsos. They are passing a marihuana joint back and forth and each drag brightens the area around their faces a bit. After a few passes, the person on the right says, “Let’s go to work.” As he puts the joint away, the person on the left almost immediately slips on a cap and the camera starts slowly backing away so that the field of view increases. As the camera backs, the viewer comes to the realization that he/she has been looking through the windshield of a commercial aircraft. The camera continues to slowly back away until the full windshield and full nose are in view. The plane starts rolling out while the camera continues back. The plane is filmed in a jump frame sequence so that the viewer follows its roll out onto the runway and take off. As the plane is approximately 40 feet in the air, just at the point the landing gear starts up–the frame freezes. The following words appear in white on the bottom of the screen: “So you think other people s drug use doesn’t affect you? Not On Your Life!”


This begins with a nighttime scene of an average 40-year old male leaving an office building on a rainy wet night in a downtown area. He stops suddenly, obviously an internal pain clutching his chest as he leans against a light pole. The sound of heavy heartbeat rises. The sidewalks are vacant but as he looks up he sees a lighted taxicab approximately half a block away and raises his arm to hail it. He struggles into the back of the taxi. Leaning onto the seat and with difficulty he tells the taxi driver, “I think I’m having a heart attack!” The driver understands immediately and rushes away with his passenger. He makes a u-turn, drives briefly down a one-way street, then on a main street speeds from corner to corner slowing only for red lights going through them in order to quickly reach a hospital. The viewer gets a sense from this part of the episode that the passenger in distress is fortunate to have run into a taxi driver willing to do what’s necessary to get him to an emergency room as fast as possible. The taxi pulls up to the door of an emergency room. The man staggers out as the taxi driver says, “Forget the fare. Good luck, Buddy.” The man staggers through the sliding hospital doors, walks up to the nurse’s station clutching his heart. No one is there. The viewer realizes that several people are being worked on in the adjacent treatment areas and the man staggers from one to the other trying to get someone’s attention. As he goes to each treatment area, there are teams of medical people working desperately to save the life of the patient on the table. At the first treatment area as the team works, one is heard speaking. The only clearly discernable word heard is “overdose.” The man staggers to the next treatment area to a similar scene where it becomes clear from the conversation of the medical team that they are dealing with a crack crises–crack induced psychosis. At each treatment area the work is frantic.

At the last treatment area, a similar scene where one of the members of the team states, “we’re going to have to pump this junkie’s stomach.” Another states, “Hey, wasn’t this guy in here the night before last.” At this point, to get assistance the man tries to hail a nurse rushing into one of the treatment rooms. He is ignored. His back is against the tile wall of the hospital emergency room. He obviously recognizes, by his facial expression as he looks into the camera (close up), that he’s not going to get any help soon. The scene is held for a few seconds so that the viewer comes to the same realization. As the realization sets in, he slides down the wall out of view. At the bottom of the screen appear the words, “So you think other people’s drug use doesn’t affect you? Think again!”


A man and woman are in an office decorated to convey that it is a law office. They are apparently discussing documents in a file. Both are dressed as professionals. The woman is firmly telling the lawyer “You must oppose their motion so the judge will see the evidence at a hearing.” The lawyer, apparently distracted, nods in agreement telling her “Don’t worry, I’ll object.” He then tells her “Hold on a minute before we leave for court.” He quickly goes into an adjacent empty room without her and closes the door. Inside and alone he pulls out a vial and snorts a white powder (cocaine). He rejoins her and they leave.

The next scene is a courtroom. The lawyer is seated next to his client and is rising and addressing the court, “No objection, Your Honour” as the woman, surprised, is looking up at him in complete disbelief. The scene fades. The words, “Some lawyers call drug use a victimless crime!” appear.


The camera starts with a close-up of an individual standing up in what appears to be a room. The wall is slightly out of focus and therefore, in the beginning, unrecognizable. The person facing the camera is smoking marihuana. During the few drags he is obviously lost in the pleasure of the joint and not paying attention to his surroundings. A bell, which only is vaguely recognizable as a ship’s bell, rings four times. The bell startles the marihuana smoker back to his task. At this point the camera starts moving back. As the field of view increases you realize that the person has been standing at the wheel on the bridge of a ship. The camera continues to pull back as the viewers recognize that they have been looking through the windshield of the bridge. The camera moves back toward the bow and up and away at a right angle so that the ship’s profile, that of a huge oil tanker, is finally in view. The background is then recognized. The background is modified for each audience. For example, for audiences on the East Coast, the background can be New York harbour, Boston harbour; Miami’s harbour, etc. For West Coast audiences–the Golden Gate Bridge, Long Beach harbour, the Channel Islands and Puget Sound; and, for Hawaii audiences–Waikiki Beach. The following words appear on the screen: “So you think other people’s drug use doesn’t affect you? Think again!”


The ad begins with a view of a car travelling along a highway. It is passing oncoming traffic all travelling at a high speed. Between cuts of the traffic shots where the car is passing through intersections there are close ups of the driver. The first cut of the driver shows him rolling a joint in his fingers while the palms of his hands rest on the steering wheel. Alternating scenes of the car going through intersections, school zones, communities, and facing oncoming traffic as the driver finishes rolling his joint and lights it. In the last scene with the driver dreamily smoking his joint a school zone sign flashes on the screen, then image of a child crossing the street, and then back to the driver dreamily puffing his joint when the frame freezes. The following words appear on the screen: “So you think other people’s drug use doesn’t affect you? Think again!”

You get the idea. The strategy of educating non-drug users how other people’s drug use harms their interests them can be applied not just in advertisements, but also by everyone in their own sphere of activity and influence. That is not as difficult as it may seam. We merely focus our efforts on engaging the survival mechanisms of the majority of Americans who are non-drug users. Indeed, there is no more laser like focused way we can get the result we need . . . a return to a drug-free America.

* * * The author, Daniel Bent, is a mediator, arbitrator and attorney. He is a former United States Attorney in the Reagan and Bush administrations. He was the chairman of the U.S. Attorney’s Committee on Drug Prevention and Education. His email address is:

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