In the 1980’s, a PSA was released by A Partnership for a Drug-Free America showing an egg hit a frying pan as a male voice says, “This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” That fifteen-second spot was ingrained on the minds of Americans to this very day. It is highly unlikely this made much of an effect on drug use in America during a time when cocaine and freebasing were all the rage. It was more treated as a punchline throughout 80’s pop culture. Rachael Leigh Cook later remade this ad and now has returned to show another side of the conversation.
The following decade, Cook made a new PSA commenting on the massive increase in heroin usage by Americans. This time, it wasn’t as simple as an egg frying. Rachael Leigh Cook destroyed an entire kitchen in an attempt to highlight the destruction to one’s life that occurs due to heroin usage. The spike in heroin use during the 1990’s has been attributed to grunge rockers and hit films of the time that glorified the drug to America’s youth. This ad was made when Rachael Leigh Cook was a model and before we found out that she’s all that.
Now, after 20 years, Cook is back with that frying pan. This time, however, she isn’t talking about heroin, but about the widely proven failure that is the War on Drugs. Cook shows us a white egg and a brown egg. “This is one of the millions of Americans who uses drugs and won’t get arrested,” she says, carefully placing the white egg in a cold pan. “However,” she says, picking up the brown egg, “this American is several times more likely to be charged with a drug crime.”
What follows after is a brief cartoon showing us the journey a person of color endures after having been targeted by law enforcement due to the War on Drugs. We see the arrest, sentencing, incarceration, and low quality of life faced by those who are statistically proven to be at higher risk of being targeted for drug use. Throughout, our friend the frying pan makes cameos to smash the future and dreams of people of color through the prejudicial system.
The ad was created by the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit based in New York City whose mission is to decriminalize responsible drug use, promote harm reduction and treatment in response to misuse and foster conversations about drug use among families and educators.
According to the DPA website, African-Americans comprise 14% of regular drug users but make-up 37% of those incarcerated for drug crimes. Lower arrest and incarceration rates for white drug users are not reflective of decreased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, in lower-income communities, and in communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system.
Drug convictions bring with them life-long penalties and exclusions that, according to the DPA have “created a permanent second-class status for millions of Americans, who may be prohibited from voting, being licensed, accessing public assistance and any number of other activities and opportunities.”