Just in case America's teenagers were not frightened enough by the prospect of their brains turning into fried eggs, the federal government has launched an antidrug campaign aimed at communicating a new message: "Use of any drug can lead to AIDS."
The warning, brought to you by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is being hammered home by a combination of print ads, billboards, and radio spots, along with TV commercials directed by Martin Scorsese and narrated by Spike Lee. NIDA explains: "The impression campaign creators hope teens will absorb after seeing the ads is that 'Using drugs, any drug, can cloud my judgment. In this state, I could put myself at risk for getting AIDS. Nothing is worth that risk.'"
But just how big is that risk? How likely is it that a kid who smokes a joint or drinks a beer will end up dying from AIDS as a result?
To bolster the premise of its campaign, NIDA cites a nonrandom survey of 222 inner-city black teenage crack users, 96 percent of whom were sexually active. About half reported having sex after smoking crack, and 77 percent had not used a condom the last time they had sex. But the data do not indicate whether the subjects were less likely to use condoms after smoking crack. In any case, the experiences of young inner-city crack smokers are hardly typical of teenagers in general.
NIDA also cites a random survey of Massachusetts teenagers in which 16 percent of sexually active subjects said they used condoms less often after drinking, and 25 percent said they used condoms less often after taking other drugs. But drug-related condom failure appears to be rare overall: Those who reported it represented only 5 percent or so of the roughly 1,500 respondents.
Furthermore, even if teenagers who had sex under the influence of drugs routinely neglected to use condoms, their risk of contracting AIDS would be inconsequential. As Michael Fumento has documented in The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, it's very difficult to transmit the AIDS virus through vaginal intercourse. This means that the chance of contracting the disease from one "unprotected" heterosexual encounter with a randomly selected partner (without anal intercourse) is quite small.
In a 1988 paper in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Drs. Norman Hearst and Stephen Hulley put the odds at 1 in 5 million—"about the same as the risk of being killed in a traffic accident while driving 10 miles on the way to that encounter." Of course, the odds of a brain/fried egg transformation are even lower.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Deadly Aphrodisiacs?".