The massive rise in drug use in the United States began during the early 1980s, with cocaine quickly taking its hold on American society, and devastating every social group, race, and class. The number of people incarcerated for drug-related crimes increased at an unprecedented scale. Then because of this large expansion in prison populations, politicians began to recognize drug abuse as the next big crisis confronting the nation.
When it was first presented to the public, there were some people who were against the campaign, and they argued that it was unnecessary and oversimplified the nature and realities surrounding drug use. It was clear that a different approach to drug use was needed since Nixon’s campaign against drugs failed. This campaign needed to have positive results, with Nancy Reagan as the face of the movement.
Although it was known that Nancy Reagan was involved in anti-drug causes before joining the White House, Just Say No initially began as a way for her to improve her image. It caused her popularity to rise and according to polls, it was even greater than her husband’s. Her Just Say No campaign redefined the purpose of a first lady.
The Just Say No campaign was one of the most highly controversial anti-drug movements in America’s history. It led to the emergence of draconian policies, like the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, that dehumanized the drug addict, changed drug abuse into a moral failing instead of an environmental or social problem, and drastically transformed how America viewed drugs. Overall, the Just Say No campaign did not have a successful impact on drug use in America and was, in fact, counterproductive to combating Drug abuse.
The campaign helped to spread awareness about drug use in America effectively through media. The campaign and the phrase ‘Just Say No’ made its way into popular American shows like Diffrent Strokes and Punky Brewster, who produced episodes about the campaign. Nancy Reagan herself, participated in a rock video called “Stop the Madness”[footnoteRef:3], and it was an enormous success in spreading the message to adolescents all over the states.
As a result of the mass fanfare that the Campaign generated in the public, the message quickly spread and got applied towards other health related issues like – alcohol and sex. ln a children’s book by Sherrie Hardly, it was used in illustrations that highlighted different scenarios which children were faced with, such as dealing with strangers, who tried to take advantage of them, and the universally accepted response was ‘Just Say No”. It became a cultural phenomenon that set the stage for future campaigns.
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