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Memories of PDFA, and other PSA’s


“You’ve got the ri-i-i-ight to just say no!”

I have way too many memories of the commercials for “Partnership for a Drug Free America,” and I say that not as a TV junkie but as someone who kind of always knew they were ineffective and just scare tactics. “Partnership for a Drug Free America” commercials were well filmed and contained the mood and tension of a horror film and were often either depicted as a message ending in something horrific or something tragic.

The “Partnership for a Drug Free America” commercials were basic staples of the eighties and nineties and played about twenty times during every commercial break. There were apparent levels of ads that played during Saturday Mornings and Weekday afternoon cartoon blocks that were mild and sometimes bordered on insane. One moment you’d see the Ninja Turtles warning kids to stay away from smoking marijuana (“I’m not a chicken, you’re a turkey!”), the next you’d see an ad of a kid watching his friends disappear on playground.

This commercial ended with the narration “Don’t do drugs. Don’t die and go away.” A lot of these ads really bordered on sadistic but were meant to curb the apparent drug epidemic and today they’re mostly observed with some novelty and yes, nostalgia. I have as much memories involving the “Partnership for a Drug Free America” and "Boys Club of America" ads as I do for the “Crossfire” and “Creepy Crawler” commercials.


Some of my favorites involved the drug dealer discussing how he appeals to kids and as he walks past pillars, he slowly but surely transforms in to a horrendous man snake. I remember being incredibly terrified of that ad as a child, and it’s a fairly solid relic of the methods these organizations used. There was also the infamous ad of the two brothers arguing about hanging out with drug dealers, and the older brother insisting his brother should stop hanging around him.

There’s the ad of the young boy running home fro school to avoid aggressive drug dealers on the streets, and the ever famous one involving the dad discovering a stash of pot in his son’s room. After grilling him about where he learned to smoke, he screams “From you alright! I learned it from watching you!” Yes, the ads even had twist endings. There is one of the more infamous ads from 1990 where a father is apparently talking to his thirteen year old son, apologizing for not helping him and how he should have seen the signs, only for the camera to pan out with him standing alone in a cemetery at the grave of his son.

Soul crushing, indeed. A lot of these ads played with our perception of normality and mundane and the results of what could happen if we sank to the lows of drug use. These ads never asked why these people did drugs, and what drove them to do drugs, or who dealt them the drugs. They also never really defined what constitutes a bad drug or a good drug. Or what qualified as drug abuse, or how addictive tendencies tended to be genetic. All we had to know is that drugs were bad, and they ruined the lives of everyone we touched if we used them.

I’m not arguing the latter point, but these PSA’s never really touched on deeper more complex issues, and were always about shocking you in to going nowhere near drugs. I was kind of a fan of “This is your brain on drugs” and the way the out of date campaign was flipped over for a more contemporary mindset with a very young Rachel Leigh Cooke using the frying pan to smash just about everything in the kitchen set for the commercial. There were even attempts to build mascots along with the pre-established ones like Pee Wee Herman and TMNT.

Who can forget the adventures of Penny, the claymation animated little girl with pennies for eyes, from Pee Wee’s Playhouse, who taught us how to say “no”? The PSA’s weren’t always for drugs, though, as a lot of the time they catered to messages about smoking, drinking, date rape, runaways, and teen pregnancy. I vividly remember a commercial from the late eighties involving running away from home where a young girl calls home from a phone booth.

Sadly, the ad is nowhere to be found on the internet but it and the snake man are some of the earliest images of PSA’s I can recall. There was even one about the dangers of huffing paint, involving a mom feeding her son who'd been rendered vegetative from brain damage after an incident involving huffing. Hey I won’t lie, the PSA’s and PDFA’s ads surely did leave an impression on me, and they can be novel relics of a time where fear was considered a vital (and the only) instrument in the war against drugs rather than information and education on the topic.
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DirtyD79 Posted on Jan 04, 2018 at 09:21 AM

I still remember the one from the late 70s and early 80s telling you "Don't drown your food." OK, what condiment related disaster was happening on such a scale that it needed a PSA? Were kids injuring themselves with ketchup bottles back then?

Hoju Koolander Posted on Jun 09, 2017 at 01:53 AM

"I learned it from watching you" and the McGruff Don't Use Drugs song were my go to PSA messages. In my Summer School Health class around 1998 we watched a tape full of the Snake Drug Dealer style messages featuring everyone from Pee-Wee Herman to Gene Simmons of KISS and we were just cracking up the whole time.

I recently uploaded a bunch of PSA commercials from my personal VHS collection here if anybody wants a laugh 1980s Public Service Announcements: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLG99Q5yS9Q6ymQSCBDhdqe1H0BPBWZrLr

Vaporman87 Posted on Jun 08, 2017 at 05:08 AM

Obviously the most memorable was the "This is your brain on drugs" ads, but I also recall the "snake man" ad and some others you mentioned. These were mostly reminders of the state of affairs in the country at the time as opposed to actual deterrents. Even so, it is possible that somebody was affected by them enough to think twice about getting involved in the drug scene.

pikachulover Posted on Jun 07, 2017 at 04:41 AM

There were so many of these. I remember the one with the girl who would dive into the empty pool.

Or even of you got to see local ones from the state, county, or large metropolitan area.

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