Cocaine: Snort It, Guzzle It, Promote It

Use of illegal and "recreational" drugs is truly becoming an epidemic that has reached crisis proportions. We’ve spent millions of tax dollars attempting to educate North American societies about the consequences of using these substances, and then in a moment, all of that proactive training is undone by a celebrity’s thoughtless actions, a movie’s "try to be cool" script, or a drink company that’s desperate to make a buck.

Can you find cocaine at your local supermarket? Figuratively, yes… literally, no.

A beverage company in Nevada is thrilled with the press they have received after the launch of their latest "energy" drink, which they call "Cocaine." Packaged in a bright red can, the provocative name has drawn gobs of media attention with radio morning show hosts goading police by setting up lemonade-style stands selling the stuff and Rosie O’Donnell doing a way-too-long comedy stint after she attempts to snort the fizzy liquid on The View.

The drink’s website links to these and every other snippet (I wonder if I will qualify?) of positive or negative buzz generated by the drink’s controversial name. Possibly the most scathing rebuke (which has also contributed to the free advertising party) came from Joseph Califano, Jr., Chairman and President of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and Former U.S. Secretary of Health.

Said Califano on September 18, 2006: "Redux Beverages should be ashamed of creating and marketing an insidious product entitled ‘Cocaine Energy Drink The Legal Alternative.’ The creation and pushing of a beverage, which, Redux claims, ‘numbs the throat to add an oral sensation much like cocaine does,’ is disgraceful. It is clearly aimed at children and teen ‘partygoers.’ In this country alone, more than one million Americans use cocaine at least weekly and putting a product on the market that glamorizes an illegal and addictive drug like cocaine is irresponsible and reprehensible. I call on all retailers, restaurants, bars and coffee shops to refuse to sell this disgusting product."

Of course, the drink doesn’t actually contain cocaine, but it does have a load of caffeine—which the company is quick to point out is much higher than any of their competitors. Touted as "the legal alternative," the marketers have the audacity to promote the healthy benefits of their concoction, the most ironic being their concern over high fructose corn syrup found in other drinks, which they don’t put in Cocaine because "HFCS is not good for you." "Try to avoid drinks and food with HFCS," advises the drink’s web site.

And they think a drink with about eight times the caffeine of a can of Coca-Cola isn’t going to do you any harm?

I couldn’t help but connect the publicity this drink was creating with comments made by Columbia’s Vice-President, Francisco Santos, who was recently in London to launch a campaign he calls "the cocaine curse."

His remarks were focused at supermodel Kate Moss, and how little consequence she faced after a newspaper photographer snapped her allegedly taking cocaine. While she initially lost some modeling jobs, she avoided any criminal charges. After a month of rehab, she has since recovered her career with what BBC news describes as "a number of lucrative contracts" and a designing position for a major London retailer.

Quoting the same BBC article, Mr. Santos said, "To me it’s baffling, that somebody who helps cause so much pain in Colombia is doing better than ever and winning more contracts than ever." (A few days after this comment, Moss was named Britain’s "Model of the Year.") He also advised Europeans that, "...that line of coke they snort is tainted in blood."

I agree with Mr. Santos, and extend the thought even further: Why do we continue to promote and create movies and television shows that laugh at cocaine and other drug use? Why does the film industry continue to make mainstream movies that glamorize illegal drugs—even in the PG-13 rating category? (Accepted, which releases to DVD on November 14, 2006, is the most recent that immediately comes to mind. It’s rated PG-13 and aimed squarely at teens and twenties.) Why do media companies so willingly accept advertising for and promote products like the Cocaine energy drink?

The irony is heightened further with a November 4, 2006 story in the Washington Post that says radio stations in Columbia are refusing to play songs written by their own country’s musical artists that glamorize drug trafficking and violence. Radio stations see these "corridos prohibidos" or prohibited ballads as inappropriate for their audiences.

It’s sadly interesting that struggling broadcasters in Columbia can make this sacrifice, yet we cannot have our domestic media come to the same conclusion.

Like many parents, I too suffer from the belief that my kids will never become involved in drugs. So far, they haven’t, but I’d venture to guess they have seen a movie or television show that portrays the use of these substances in a way that doesn’t include negative consequences. (And if you think for a moment the consequences of this drug are minimal, check this guide to the effects of cocaine use.) Until everyone understands how serious this topic is, I’m convinced drug use in schools and the lives of young people and adults is only going to increase. We are destroying our own countries, as well as contributing to the destruction of fragile democracies in drug producing countries like Columbia.

The next time your kids are laughing at media scenarios involving drug use, take a moment to help them recognize the cost of continuing this very serious "joke."

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…