Britain starts anti-drug campaign that some fear will encourage use

The British government is launching a publicity campaign to combat the rapid growth of heroin addiction among young people. The attempt to draw the attention of youths and their parents to the dangers of drug use will cost 2.4 million ($2.5 million) and take the form of nationwide television and newspaper advertisements, as well as widespread distribution of pamphlets.

But the campaign, which will try to teach parents to recognize heroin symptoms, will probably be conducted amid controversy. Some medical experts say it will be counterproductive and merely awaken an interest in heroin among young people who would otherwise ignore it.

Announcing the publicity program, Norman Fowler, the secretary of social services, said the program would not glamorize drug abuse. ``We will not be trying to shock people -- just warn them of the risks,'' he said. ``What we have to do is to get to our vulnerable youngsters before they become seriously involved.''

But the program has not won the approval of the Conference on Drug Abuse, whose coordinator points out that similar advertisements used in the United States in the 1970s did not appear to reduce the incidence of heroin addiction. Many US academics who have studied drug education programs say that these kinds of programs encourage, rather than discourage, drug experimentation.

A Labour Party opposition spokesman said the money would be better spent on treating the 50,000 or more young Britons already addicted to heroin. The first phase of Britain's campaign is to begin this week. The TV advertisements will begin to be aired in April.

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