Rachael Leigh Cook: This Is Your Brain On The War On Drugs

By Victoria Kim 04/21/17

In a new spin on an old PSA, the She's All That actress reprised her role to highlight the damage caused by the War on Drugs. 

Rachel Leigh Cook in a new PSA.
Photo via YouTube

Anyone who remembers Rachael Leigh Cook in the gloomy egg-smashing anti-drug PSA from the nineties will appreciate this. Twenty years later, on 4/20, Cook appears in a new version of the ad, and this time her warning isn’t about heroin—it’s about the decades-long War on Drugs.

In the 1997 version of the ad, Cook smashes a raw egg with a frying pan: “This is what happens to your brain after snorting heroin.” The actress, then 18, proceeds to destroy everything in sight: “This is what your body goes through. And this is what your family goes through.” In the end, the kitchen is in shambles: “Any questions?”

This time around, Cook partnered with the Drug Policy Alliance to get a very different message across: The War on Drugs is a war on people. 

Back with the frying pan and the egg, the video delves into some of the terrible ways that the drug war affects people’s lives. 

Arguably the most harmful impact of the War on Drugs is the perpetuation of systemic racism. Cook holds up a white egg: “This is one of the millions of Americans who uses drugs and won’t get arrested.” Then she holds up a brown egg. “However, this American is several times more likely to be charged with a drug crime.”

A quick Google search will produce pages and pages of research papers and articles on this topic. The racist drug war is a huge driver of mass incarceration in the United States. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.

A 2016 report by the Drug Policy Alliance illustrates these harms: “Black people comprise 13% of the U.S. population and are consistently documented by the U.S. government to use drugs at similar rates to people of other races. But black people comprise 31% of those arrested for drug law violations, and nearly 40% of those incarcerated in state or federal prison for drug law violations.”

The 2017 ad goes on to illustrate the difficulties of living with a drug conviction. A past drug conviction can affect a person’s ability to receive federal student aid, and most job applications still ask about a person’s criminal history.

“Here are your job prospects,” Cook says before smashing them into oblivion. According to a report funded by the Justice Department, “a criminal record reduced the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50%.” Further, the lingering effects of a criminal conviction are “substantially larger for blacks than for whites.” 

Campaigns like Ban the Box are working to get rid of this question on job applications, so that formerly incarcerated people, and their families, can have a fresh start. 

With an estimated 68 million Americans living with criminal convictions in the United States, this would have a huge impact.

“The War on Drugs is ruining people’s lives,” Cook says at the end of the video. “It fuels mass incarceration. It targets people of color in greater numbers than their white counterparts. It cripples communities. It costs billions. And it doesn’t work. Any questions?”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr