A new report from a US government agency casts doubt on claims a high-profile anti-drugs ad campaign has curbed teen narcotics use.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse -- a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services -- believes that the long-running ad push from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has had a "favorable effect" on parents, but not on the children it targets.

The findings heighten the controversy surrounding the campaign, which receives $150 million (€120m; £83m) of funding a year. Many of the ad duties are handled by Ogilvy & Mather, despite accusations the agency at one time overbilled the government for its work on the ONDCP account. Earlier this month, two former O&M executives were indicted for their role in the alleged scam [WAMN: 07-Jan-04].

NIDA has been responsible for reviewing the effectiveness of the ONDCP campaign for several years. Its new research, conducted by the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania and research firm Westat, studies the impact of the anti-drugs ads from September 1999 to June 2003.

The report concludes that "there is little evidence of direct favorable campaign effects on youth." It adds that, despite the ONDCP's drive against marijuana use in 2002, "youth who were more exposed to [the campaign] messages are no more likely to hold favorable beliefs or intentions about marijuana than are youth less exposed to those messages."

These findings run counter to a study released late last year that was used as proof the ONDCP campaign was working. The biennial Monitoring the Future report conducted by the University of Michigan found a drop in teen drug use -- a trend White House anti-drug supremo John Walters attributed in part to the ads [WAMN: 23-Dec-03].

The ONDCP has criticised NIDA research in the past for using a smaller sample of young Americans than Monitoring the Future.

Data sourced from: AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff