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Vol. LVII, No. 25
December 16, 2005

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NIDA Involves Students in Development of HIV Public Service Announcement

New data show continuing increases in the number of AIDS cases among women, youth and racial and ethnic groups in the United States. To combat this trend, NIDA is developing awareness initiatives to reach these populations, youth in particular, to increase their awareness of the relationship between drug abuse, risky sexual behavior and HIV transmission. A new NIDA public service announcement (PSA) does just that by highlighting how drug use can impair a young person's ability to make responsible decisions about sex and thereby lead to HIV infection.

"use ur brain. keep ur body healthy. b drug free."

Prepared in advance of World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, NIDA developed a PSA for television that capitalizes on teens' growing use of cell phones and text messaging as a means to communicate. The PSA opens with a young girl strolling down a city sidewalk, stopping to respond to a message on her cell phone. The exchange follows:

"u hear bout kim?"
"what bout kim?"
"she has HIV!"
"4 real? how?"
"a party
months ago.
she got HIGH
n now has HIV!"

Filming of NIDA's new PSA campaign on the connection between HIV
and drug abuse.

As the two friends exchange text messages, the visual is now a sequence of party scenes, a flashback montage suggestive of drug-taking that leads to sexual involvement. The sequence carries the message that drugs impair judgment and can result in risky sexual behavior and subsequent HIV infection.

It definitely struck that chord with one of the actresses, a student named Zaibaa from Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., who commented: "What I see is one minute of fun can lead to a lifetime of misery.No one can say 'it's not gonna happen to me!'"

Zaibaa is one of several students from Duke Ellington who were asked to participate in the making of the PSA, serving as actors, production assistants and reviewers. She and Rebecca ("Becca"), both seniors studying theater arts, were chosen from about a dozen hopefuls to portray the two text-messaging girlfriends who share the news about "kim."

"she got HIGH, got STUPID, and now she has HIV."

Asked whether she felt the spot would resonate with her peers, Becca said, "Yes, because it is more dramatic and powerful than I thought it would be, and also more real than most other ads made for teens.Usually my friends and I mock ads for the stereotypes they use, especially about what teens do." Becca happens to be a Katrina evacuee who is living with her aunt in order to attend school in D.C. Back in her hometown of Metairie, La., her home and school — also a performing arts school — were destroyed. She is upbeat and enthusiastic about being a part of the NIDA PSA.

The NIDA team that developed the PSA involved kids from the start to ensure the relevance of messages directed to them. They asked teen experts to review concepts before integrating them in the production of the PSA. The process involved several rounds of focus groups held in Miami, Chicago and Baltimore; mall intercepts, where local teens were stopped and surveyed on how particular nuances were being delivered and an interview forum, which allowed more fine-tuning based on input from students in the D.C. area.

The production team tapped into the Duke Ellington School to find local talent also representative of populations where HIV infection is on the rise. Said Caleb Cooks, the PSA producer, "For me, doing this spot has raised my personal awareness and my feeling of connectedness to the target audience.We really want to take an offensive position with HIV awareness and push this agenda forward — to keep the momentum going." Zaibaa said she, too, enjoyed her involvement in broadcasting the message and being part of something bigger than herself. "I really liked working on this ad because I'm doing something more than just trying to better myself, I'm also part of the cause, the fight, and this is especially important to me, living here in D.C."

Becca and Zaibaa's classmates at Duke Ellington weighed in on the PSA following a screening at the school on World AIDS Day. NIDA also participated in an assembly about drug abuse and HIV infection. On Nov. 29, NIDA invited all those who participated in developing the PSA to attend the press briefing launching the campaign. In addition, the Washington, D.C., Metro system has agreed to display NIDA's HIV ads as a public service in Metro stations and on buses for the month of December.

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