Are the SHAPE posters factual?

A little background, over the last couple of days, a lot of flyers popped up

Nomadic Lass / Flickr Hussung argues that SHAPE should focus on the harmful effects of drugs instead of the legality of substances.
Nomadic Lass / Flickr
Hussung argues that SHAPE should focus on the harmful effects of drugs instead of the legality of substances.

around Mercer’s campus. They contain internet memes, captioned with information about various drugs. And to be fair, some of them are clever.

This is an open letter to Mercer SHAPE. (Sexual Assault, Hazing, and Alcohol Prevention Education).

First, let me applaud SHAPE for their recent education flyer campaign. I’m sure it was well-meant, and it is important for intelligent individuals to be educated about topics such as drug use.

But here’s the problem: there are no sources listed for the information on the flyers. This places the reputability of the flyers below Wikipedia and the average middle school report on Christopher Columbus, both of which generally note the origins of their facts.

The flyers spout drug facts–which are already often controversial–without giving viewers anywhere to find additional information about how the facts were obtained. Students interested in learning more do not have an immediate avenue through which to pursue more information. Yes, a google search will give results, but an organization which sets out to educate students on drugs should do the heavy-lifting and find reputable sources to distribute to the student body.

Further, drug facts are often contested. A flyer saying “1/11 Marijuana users will become addicted”, will often be countered with the fact that marijuana does not have severe physical withdrawal symptoms. However, a brief trip to Psychology Today’s Article: “Is Marijuana Addictive?” points out some of the flaws in focusing solely on the physical signs and symptoms of addiction. (The article is written by a Harvard faculty member, which is important to know, since it sets it apart from most of what you find on the internet.) This article does not entirely close the issue, but it gives a better context for facts given about marijuana addiction.

It would have been extremely easy to link to such an article on the flyer in question.

Finally, I may have missed them, but I think it is important to consider which drugs we “target” when creating informational campaigns. We often focus on drugs which are illegal, harmful, and often used: marijuana, meth, abused prescription drugs, etc.

But should legality matter in terms of education? We should make decisions based on accurate information, and allow public policy to trail after. Laws should not dictate what we consider harmful or harmless. Although, it is still in one’s best interest to follow them.

That said, educational campaigns about drugs should be especially hard on tobacco use–partially because it is legal. While well understood, it is important to reiterate the harmfulness of the substance, given that 17.3% of adults aged 18 to 24 are current smokers. (Center for Disease Control, Tobacco, Adult Data)

I do acknowledge that SHAPE is open to expanding awareness of harmful legal substances–the A in their name stands for alcohol. I just think we should start lumping cigarettes in with illegal drugs, for the sake of creating a mental grouping based on effect, as opposed to legality.

While I honor the intentions of the group, I think the flyers could have been executed better. We cite sources for multiple reasons–and those reasons don’t disappear once class is over.