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Can You Just Say No?

Since 1985, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America--with the ad world's best and free media exposure--has been an ally in the war on drugs. New target: heroin.


Some observers credit the group's evangelical fervor. As one veteran of Madison Avenue puts it, "They don't just 'win' believers, they convert them with arm-twisting and the best manipulative powers in Manhattan."

If some of the Partnership's work is painful to watch, if some of it is too real, too sad or too scary, all the better, say the pros. "If we're twisting arms, if we refuse to ever go second class, if we manipulate emotions, well, we're doing it for angels," says a Partnership executive.

Here's Lenny on the screen, a heroin addict showing the camera a sore oozing pus on his left thigh.

Here is Ashley, an addict enlisted for an ad to deglamorize drugs. As the haggard face speaks groggily about her habit, pictures of Ashley as the fresh-faced president of her senior class and eight years later as the glamorous art director of a big advertising agency flash across the screen. Ashley is only 28, Steedman says, but she looks decades older.

"We were sitting at lunch with her one day," Steedman recalls, "and she was talking about what drugs had done to her life and then all of a sudden, she just reached into her mouth and pulled out her [false] teeth. All the years of abuse had caused her teeth to fall out. It was, let's just say, it was a very dramatic scene and, the moment we saw it, we knew we wanted to share it."

Ashley's drug of choice is heroin, which, according to a growing number of reports, is making a comeback among young white professionals. "The absolute taboo against heroin that the recreational drug users of the '60s--some of whom are the parents of the '90s--is gone," Steedman says.

The new movie "Trainspotting," an instant cult classic, is introducing tens of thousands of Generation Xers to a drug their parents never dreamed of using--or of warning their offspring against.

Bonnette, the Partnership's president, says the organization's goal is to get between the consumer and the drug. "We know that most kids don't want to hurt themselves, and most kids want to do what's socially acceptable. But we also know that they're not getting the information they need to make an intelligent choice."

"Ultimately, our research tells us that the longer we can get a kid to put off that first taste of drugs, the more likely we are to keep that kid from becoming a regular drug user," says Hedrick, the Partnership's vice chairman.

A former Manhattan marketing executive, Hedrick hooked up with the Partnership after his 7-year-old son was offered pot on a Greenwich, Conn., school playground. "I figured if it can happen in Greenwich, it can happen anywhere. No kid is safe. Not yours, not mine."


Once upon a time there was a girl named Wendy who was very beautiful and very happy and had lots of friends but then one day she did some heroin and got addicted and lost everything and then she died. The End.

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