Does the U.S. Government Have a Drinking Problem?


Alcohol causes America more drug problems than illegal drugs.

Not surprisingly, the alcohol industry hates its product being identified as a drug. It especially hates for its product, which is an illegal drug for American youth, to be lumped in the same sentence with marijuana and cocaine. After all, if too many American youth and their parents come to understand alcohol as a gateway drug to other illicit drugs, the alcohol industry loses customers and future annuitants. 

 

To protect its profits, the alcohol industry spreads corporate money around Washington. And not surprisingly, some politicians and government agencies go soft in the knees when it comes to dealing aggressively with alcohol as a youth problem drug like cocaine.

 

The drinking problem is so bad in Washington that Common Cause's magazine once carried a picture of the Capitol dome sitting atop wine bottles atop beer cans.

 

The most recent example of the government's conflicted view about alcohol as a drug occurred this summer when the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy continued a contractual relationship for its anti-drug media campaign with a firm whose client portfolio includes Miller Lite and XO Beer.

 

According to AdAge.com, ONDCP awarded Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide a $150-million-a-year contract for up to five years to handle its anti-drug media campaign.

 

Yes, the nation's anti-drug czar hired a corporate drug promoter to warn the country about the dangers of drugs. Surely this move defies common sense, unless alcohol is not really being considered a drug.

 

Imagine Ogilvy & Mather's corporate planning sessions. Do you think they will use taxpayer dollars to design ads that discourage underage drinking of Miller Lite? Not likely.

 

To make matters worse, in the same month that ONDCP chose Ogilvy & Mather, which had had Miller Lite as a client since 1999, Ogilvy & Mather was reportedly given a $50-million contract for Miller Genuine Draft, according to AdAge.com.

 

Now the story worsens. Ogilvy & Mather made a $1.8 million settlement with the government due to allegations that the company falsified employee timesheets, a charge the corporation denies.

 

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said, "This is a company that knowingly and willingly filed fraudulent billing invoices," according to AdAge.com. Dorgan was so steamed that he said the firm should not have been chosen to run the nation's anti-drug media campaign.

 

"It is time to draw a line in the sand and take a stand," said Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga. "It is shameful for the government to reward any company that has admitted to fraud and reportedly is subject to part of criminal investigation for its actions."

 

Barr led a successful effort in the House of Representatives to bar Ogilvy & Mather from payment for its ONDCP work after Oct. 1.

 

Dorgan and Barr took important steps to address alleged corporation illegality. But even if Ogilvy & Mather does lose its government contract, the U.S. government will still likely have a drinking problem.

 

Alcohol must be considered an illicit drug for American youth; and it should be listed with other illicit drugs.

 

The ONDCP should begin by prioritizing alcohol on the front page of its Web site under "Facts & Figures," which "provides current data on major drugs." This list includes club drugs, cocaine, crack, LSD and steroids. It excludes alcohol. This absence speaks volumes about the government's drinking problem.

 

A war on drugs must not exclude alcohol as a primary concern for young people.

 

Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.

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