Meth Madness

For $5 million, Arizona can grow its population of meth users -- just like Montana

Rawson does praise the Montana effort on several levels. He likes that the founder, billionaire Thomas Siebel, made a point of running the ads past focus groups, and tweaking messages until they seemed on point.

"But I don't think they could resist the temptation of throwing a big dose of, 'We'll scare them away from this stuff,'" he says. "And they received a lot of advice not to do that."

Barbara Delaney, director of research for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in New York City, confirms that the data supports Rawson's claims.

"If you tell kids that 'you use it once and you're addicted,' and they know someone who tried it and that wasn't true, you've lost them. You've got to give them credible information."

The Partnership makes a point of running each new drug campaign past experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A spokeswoman for that office confirms a long-standing relationship with the Partnership -- but says that the agency was not asked to look at the Montana ads.


As a conservative, state Senator John Huppenthal had long been skeptical about the power of drug-abuse prevention campaigns -- particularly when the campaigns were being financed with tax dollars.

But Huppenthal is also, as he'll freely admit, the kind of guy who finds spreadsheets of statistics absolutely fascinating.

And so, in the late '90s, when a fellow Republican asked him to go over numbers on Arizonans' tobacco use following a major, state-funded campaign targeting teenagers, Huppenthal found himself riveted: The numbers clearly indicated that teen smoking in Arizona had plummeted.

The drop was about 40 percent, and Huppenthal was a convert. So, this year, after hearing horror stories about the meth addiction plaguing Arizona, and reading New Times' 2005 series "The Perfect Drug," he decided that what the state needed was a really good "meth de-glamorization" campaign.

Huppenthal's bill, which would allot $5 million for the campaign, was introduced earlier this year. After successfully advancing through a few hearings, the bill was folded into the comprehensive anti-meth bill being pushed by his colleague, Representative Mark Anderson, R-Mesa.

That bill -- which is expected to pass, but is still pending -- was making its way through the Legislature when Huppenthal got a call from an analyst at the Arizona Department of Health Services. "Hey, check out what they're doing in Montana," the worker suggested.

It wasn't hard to find the Montana Meth Project. The nonprofit organization has the perfect components of a Hollywood-ready story: A charismatic founder with billions to share. A drug so bad it makes users' teeth rot and brains turn to mush. An all-American state filled with nice white kids who loved the ads so much, they actually wrote letters to the editor of their local newspaper, asking for more.

Thanks to those basic elements, the Montana Meth Project became a media darling: Everyone from the New York Times to NPR to CBS's Early Show devoted time and space to singing its praises.

The ads are unflinching in graphic depictions of the effects of meth use -- from terrible skin to hoodlum behavior.

In one television ad, "Just Once," a cute teenage girl and her friends pass around some lines. "I'm gonna try meth just this once," she tells the camera.

The scene cuts to her looking a little more haggard. "I'm gonna smoke just this once," she promises.

Then, "I'm going to steal just this once."

Finally, "I'm going to sleep with him for meth just once."

In the final scene, the girl's angelic little sister paws through her purse as the girl lies on the bed, her skin scabby, her eyes shut.

"I'm gonna try meth just once," says little sis.

In another one of the TV spots, "Bathtub," a girl is confronted by the ghost of meth use future, a scarred, tweaked-out wreck, as she showers.

"Don't do meth. Don't do it!" her future self howls.

The ads have glossy production values, and, according to the New York Times, at least some were shot by Tony Kaye, who directed Edward Norton in American History X. Adcritic.com put the ads in its Top 20 list, a fact included in nearly every newspaper story about their success.

But after studying the campaign, John Huppenthal was not convinced.

For one thing, he was concerned about the emphasis on getting hooked after using meth once. He'd read enough to know that was a dicey claim, at best.

"You really need to be very science-based," he says. "You can be creative, but you can't say something that's not so."

The bigger problem, though, was a lack of data. It was way too soon for government-sponsored "use" surveys to measure where Montana's meth consumption was dropping, and that was no one's fault.

But researchers know that there are other ways to get at whether an ad campaign is making a difference. Surveys, for example, can give good indications that a campaign is working by showing that it's changed viewers' perception about a drug.

Simple enough: If fewer kids think cigarettes are cool, fewer kids are almost certain to show up in government surveys as regular smokers.

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1 comments
michelle
michelle

*~Meth~*.I have done meth for 20yrs now and by no means am I proud to disclose this information!! I was 18 when I started,now I'm 38 and yes still very much addicted:(!! It is very addicting and not worth even trying that one time.If I would have know then what I know now I would have never even tryed it once.But back then you didn't hear or it wasn't really talked about because it was not the major choice of drug,cocaine was.Meth does not descriminate...once it has you its gonna be a long,miserable,F~UP ride with the "Devil" right by your side. You lose the true you,whats inside your heart and what you could have become or accomplised in life..and possibly even more than that..its pure evil:(!!I have to commend all who have won the fight:)I wish I had your strength or the money for rehab but 20,000 or more a month for in-patient what drug user can afford that??? So why is treatment so expensive??? I know I would like to get treatment but I need in-patient that I can't afford and I know out-patient isn't for me...also...I'm a total failure on my own:(!!So what's a drug addict to do????

 
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