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The effectiveness of anti-illicit-drug public-service announcements: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Dan Werb1,
  2. Edward J Mills1,2,
  3. Kora DeBeck1,
  4. Thomas Kerr1,3,
  5. Julio S G Montaner1,3,
  6. Evan Wood1,3
  1. 1British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Vancouver, Canada
  2. 2Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver Canada
  3. 3Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Evan Wood, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia 608-1081 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6, Canada; uhri-ew{at}


Background Anti-illicit-drug public-service announcements (PSAs) have become a cornerstone of drug policy in the USA. However, studies of the effectiveness of these interventions have not been subjected to a systematic evaluation.

Methods The authors searched 10 electronic databases along with major conference abstract databases (from inception until 15 February 2010) for all articles and abstracts that evaluated the effectiveness of anti-illicit-drug PSAs. The authors evaluated all studies that assessed intention to use illicit drugs and/or levels of illicit-drug use after exposure to PSAs, and conducted meta-analyses of these studies.

Results The authors identified seven randomised trials (n=5428) and four observational trials (n=17 404). Only one randomised trial showed a statistically significant benefit of PSAs on intention to use illicit drugs, and two found evidence that PSAs significantly increased intention to use drugs. A meta-analysis of eligible randomised trials demonstrated no significant effect. Observational studies showed evidence of both harmful and beneficial effects.

Conclusion Existing evidence suggests that the dissemination of anti-illicit-drug PSAs may have a limited impact on the intention to use illicit drugs or the patterns of illicit-drug use among target populations.

  • Anti-drug
  • PSA
  • mass media
  • youth
  • social marketing
  • meta-analysis
  • drug addiction
  • meta-analysis ME
  • policy analysis SI
  • systematic reviews
  • youth health

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  • Funding Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research; Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

  • Competing interests EM has received grants and served as an ad hoc advisor to Pfizer, and JM has received grants from, served as an ad hoc adviser to, or spoken at events sponsored by Abbott, Argos Therapeutics, Bioject, Boehringer Ingelheim, BMS, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Hoffmann-La Roche, Janssen-Ortho, Merck Frosst, Panacos, Pfizer, Schering, Serono, TheraTechnologies, Tibotec (J&J) and Trimeris.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.