Intense Campaign Already Has Its Loser: Drug Use
Posters, patches and bumper stickers are stacked high. Fund-raiser invitations wait to be mailed, and half a dozen telephones ring constantly. If it sounds like a campaign office, it is--but this campaign won’t end with the November election.
The Drug Use Is Life Abuse Foundation may be obscure now, but organizers expect that by the end of this week, almost everyone in Orange County will have heard the message. It will be hard to miss.
Clergy throughout the county have been asked to denounce drugs from the pulpit today. Begining Monday, more than 550,000 anti-drug stickers will be passed out--one for every schoolchild in the county--and 22,000 high school athletes will make “Athletes Against Drugs” patches part of their uniforms. Stores and businesses will be blanketed with anti-drug window decals, and dozens of “Do Drugs--Do Time” highway signs will spring up at county borders.
“This is an image campaign, and to be effective, we have to be relentless,” said Paul Mondschein, executive director of the Santa Ana-based foundation. “We’re trying to change the way people think about drug use, and to use social networks and social pressure to our advantage. I see it snowballing.”
Mondschein, a former record company promoter whose pierced ear is unadorned these days, sells anti-drug attitudes like laundry detergent from a small, cluttered office just south of the MainPlace/Santa Ana mall. But the biggest mover behind the marketing campaign is, officially at least, taking a back seat.
Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates’ name does not appear on any T-shirts or pamphlets, and the only photograph of Gates in the foundation office is posted inconspicuously at waist-level beside a desk.
But it was Gates who used his powerful position and personal appeal to gather moral and financial support for the campaign in meetings with business, church and education officials during the past year. The foundation, established in September, is a spinoff from Gates’ Citizens Advisory Council, a private-sector panel that offers recommendations for the department. Four staff members from the sheriff’s drug prevention unit also assist Mondschein.
Working through local schools, police departments, churches and chambers of commerce, the anti-drug group says it has collected more than 25,000 completed pledge cards vowing “a personal commitment against drug abuse"--about 8,000 of those from students.
Slick advertisements, logos and bumper stickers have been distributed to newspapers and businesses countywide. The anti-drug activities of “Red Ribbon Week,” begining Monday in schools throughout the county, will be accompanied by “Hugs Not Drugs” stickers provided by foundation donors. And on Thursday, a no-drugs video made by members of Gates’ student advisory council will debut at a Santa Ana theater.
“We’ve got 79 projects on the board now, in various stages,” Gates said. “Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job in 5 years by turning off the faucet of consumption.”
The crusade must maintain a high profile, Gates insists, but he does not have to be out in front.
“I don’t think my name belongs there,” Gates said of the foundation flyers. “This is a nonpolitical issue, it’s an issue that faces us across the board. We’ve tried to keep politics out of it. The bottom line is, I’m the sheriff, and it is my area of responsibility to see that people don’t do drugs.”
Still, Gates works the theme into just about every public or private stop, pressing home the point that cocaine or heroin was found in the bloodstreams of 310 county residents who have died since January, 1987. For a June news conference, he filled a coffin with $4.2 million in cash confiscated from drug dealers. In one-on-one conversations, he stresses that drugs have killed ordinary and exceptional people in Orange County--doctors, lawyers, teachers, welders, cooks, housewives and students.
“The office of sheriff brings with it the name,” said Gates, who has enjoyed solid voter support since his first election to the county’s top law enforcement post in 1974. “I can pick up the phone and call somebody and ask for a bit of their time. After educating them about the facts, (I can) leave them with a list of things they can do. I can get the doors open, and once people see the facts, they get involved.”
Even though the four Sheriff’s Department employees work exclusively on the “Life Abuse” campaign, “they are not actually working for the foundation, they are working for the department,” said Lt. Richard Olson, a spokesman for Gates. The sheriff’s staff worked on the campaign from the same Santa Ana office now used by the foundation before the not-for-profit agency was formed or they were joined by Mondschein, Olson said. They are paid by the Sheriff’s Department.
Gates’ offensive has won the backing of the Lincoln Club, an elite league of wealthy and influential businessmen and women who tilt strongly Republican and back their leanings with generous contributions. Donations of cash and services approach $200,000, and contributors include Marion Knott-Montapert of the Knott’s Berry Farm family; Doy and Dee Henley, millionaire owners of Aeromil Engineering Co., a Santa Ana aircraft controls manufacturer, and Michael Hayde, president of Western Property Management Co., developer of more than 20,000 apartment units in Orange County.
“Gates has access to the top business people in the county,” Doy Henley said. “Brad is a popular guy, and when he speaks on an issue like drug abuse, he speaks from knowledge. I don’t know if it will really help his political career, but it certainly won’t hurt.”
The “Life Abuse” effort segues neatly into annual Red Ribbon events and the “Just Say No” Foundation, an anti-drug campaign that lists First Lady Nancy Reagan as its honorary chairwoman. The separate campaigns are building momentum at a time when, according to experts, drug use among schoolchildren just isn’t as hip as it used to be.
“Some people think it’s cool to be on drugs, but I think it’s stupid, and the majority of kids think so too,” said Katie Gomez, 14, an eighth-grade student at Costa Mesa High School. Gomez, who wore a “Hugs Not Drugs” sticker on her red-and-white blouse, said friends at school don’t harass fellow students for going public about their no-narcotics sentiments.
“It’s like the ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’ slogan,” said Jeremy Anderson, a Costa Mesa senior who was walking home with Gomez one day last week. “After a while, you remember it and it gives you support to say no when you feel pressure to do something.”
There is little research to chart the effectiveness of marketing offensives like “Life Abuse” and “Just Say No.” But the consensus seems to be that they can’t hurt.
One study that followed a year of anti-drug television, radio and newspaper advertisements--$150 million worth of public service air time and ad space--showed a marked shift in attitudes, according to the July report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Media Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Interviews with 7,000 respondents conducted at college campuses and malls across the country, including Anaheim and Long Beach, found that nearly one in five children have been approached to experiment with drugs. But among teen-agers, 91% said this year that they would not try drugs even if their friends did, compared to 86% who said they wouldn’t give into peer pressure in 1987.
“If this 1-year comparison is any indication, we can have a significant effect on attitudes over time,” said Walter Carlson, spokesman for the New York-based Media Partnership.
Closer to home, a UCLA study commissioned by Atty. Gen. John K. Van De Kamp showed casual use of narcotics is dropping among seventh- to 11th-graders. Slightly fewer than a third of the 11th-graders surveyed during the 1987-88 school year said they had used marijuana in the past six months, compared to 42% in 1985-86. Cocaine use had also declined, with 11% admitting recent use in 1987-88, compared to 17.6% in 1985-86.
The survey’s Southern California region, consisting of Orange, Riverside, Imperial and San Bernardino counties, found that while overall drug and alcohol use is declining here, average cocaine use was slightly higher than for the state as a whole, according to Paula Higashi of the attorney general’s office.
And although the county has not alloted funds to conduct its own student survey since 1984, Bill Edelman, manager of the Orange County Health Care Agency’s drug program, says he believes that drug use is down.
“Skeptics say: ‘How can a slogan change the way people feel and behave?’ ” Edelman said. “They feel availability of drugs is the key. But I think these campaigns are creating a greater awareness on the part of the public. Anytime we begin to talk about the problems of drug abuse, we expand the enlightened public and more people start to act.”
Gates likens the effect to the gradual change in attitudes toward tobacco smoking.
“The facts became so obvious that smoking gives you cancer, kills you, ruins your life, that young people and adults all moved into the group that doesn’t smoke anymore,” he said. “It wasn’t glamorous anymore--it became the ‘in’ crowd that didn’t smoke. And we did all that without a cop or a law or throwing people in jail.”
But the drug trade is a classic supply-and-demand business, and widely publicized narcotics busts are evidence that somebody is still using the stuff. More than 6,000 pounds of cocaine and $25 million in cash and assets related to drug trafficking have been seized in Orange County since 1986, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Gates will take his campaign to the pulpit today in guest appearances during two worship services at the Rev. Robert H. Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. The televised services will be viewed by an estimated 2.2 million Americans. At other churches and synagogues throughout the county, the pitch will be the same.
“There will be a pulpit announcement about Red Ribbon Week, and when people leave the church, young people will be handing out bumper stickers and Red Ribbon stickers and cards to pledge a drug-free life style,” said the Rev. Stephen Murray, a pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Newport Beach.
“It is an important first step. It raises awareness, and immediately people are numbed by the hugeness of it. Then we tell them where they can plug in. It might be as simple as putting a bumper sticker on their car. The cynic can say, ‘This is a Band-Aid,’ but I say it is a wonderful begining. Everyone knows that kids are exposed to drugs and are experimenting. We are saying, ‘Why?’ and ‘What can we do?’ ”
At Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Red Ribbon Week was preceded by a presentation by a local youth who is a recovering drug addict. Other observances will include the sale of 25-cent “Hug-grams,” coupons redeemable for hugs that will benefit drug rehabilitation centers, and the release of helium balloons to spread the word beyond the school campus.
“To be effective, a campaign like this can’t just be slogans and ad campaigns and videos,” said Father Michael Harris, principal of the county’s showcase Catholic school, which opened last year. “It has to be followed up with programs that reach out to the individual students and touches them. And it has to include parents, teachers and coaches, all affirming the kids.”
Public schools are also involved--at Costa Mesa High School, students will spell out anti-drug sayings in yard-high letters on the football field. At Western High School in Anaheim, youngsters will be asked to make decisions about drug and alcohol use in a role-playing game with a computer provided to four high schools in the nation through a $50,000 grant.
Michael Hayde, president of Western Property Management Co. and the largest single donor to Gates’ anti-drug effort, applauds the campaign at all levels. As a grade-school student growing up in Compton, he saw drug dealing firsthand. When he went to college, “marijuana was everywhere.” But he said he didn’t give drug abuse much thought until his 47-year-old brother, a Northern California executive, died of a cocaine overdose last year.
Hayde estimates the value of his contributions--the foundation office, a marketing specialist from his staff and Mondschein’s salary for a year--at about $100,000.
“All of us want to think that a drug user is a bad guy, someone that we wouldn’t want to associate with,” Hayde said. “I thought my brother was an isolated businessman who used cocaine. I since found out that 10 or 12 of my business friends and associates were using or abusing cocaine.
“Brad Gates says law enforcement is not going to catch all of these people and put them away. He’s right--one of them was my brother. What we are attempting to do is make people aware there is a problem.”