Shameful anti-drug ad campaign spreads misinformation to DC youth (we're shocked)

Shameful anti-drug ad campaign spreads misinformation to DC youth (we're shocked)

On my way home from the office last week, this new print advertisement caught my eye. The ad, sponsored by DC public health officials, warns that if you use “fake weed,” you may turn into a zombie. This point is punctuated by a photo of a young female zombie dressed to the nines for prom with her seemingly oblivious date standing behind her. (The ad also seems to suggest that the presumably sober young man in the photo just happened to miss the fact that his date was undead, but we’ll leave that aside for now.)


You’ve probably heard the zombie story, which was supposedly related to bath salts, not K2 (“fake weed”). The story goes that a homeless man in Miami last summer ingested bath salts and then ate the face of his victim. It’s among the best pieces of drug war propaganda that is still widely accepted as true. The only problem: It is utterly false.

The zombie-drug-face-eating story took off when a reporter covering the Miami incident asked the local head of the police union what happened. Brilliantly, without the benefit of any actual evidence or a toxicology report, the police officer speculated that bath salts must have caused the man’s psychosis. “News” of the alleged cause spread like wildfire. Congress even used the misinformation to help justify speeding through a new federal ban of an assorted range of chemicals.

When the toxicology report was eventually released, however, it showed the only substance in the man’s system was natural marijuana. Predictably, the correction noting this fact received very little attention.

I don’t expect most citizens to have noticed that correction, but it seems to me that public health officials should know better than to disseminate misinformation. As we have already seen from decades of drug war propaganda, ads like this often backfire because young people see them as not credible.

If you also expect more from public health authorities, please consider calling on the Washington D.C. Department of Health to stop running these ridiculous ads by signing our petition and/or via your social media channels like Facebook or Twitter.