Meth Madness

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

When he asked for the data, Huppenthal says, the Montana people resisted. "They said they were not going to release it yet," he says. "They wanted to go back and remeasure what they reported."

And when the report finally was released last Wednesday, the statistics it revealed weren't all that great.

While there is absolutely no indication that any of the data has been tweaked to make the campaign look more successful than it was, you only have to read the officially released report -- a 37-page summary and 60 pages of raw data -- to get some pretty good spin.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard

The report's summary never mentions the statistically significant group of teens who became less wary about meth's risks after the ads ran.

And while the report notes that a greater percentage of both teens and young adults now cite specific risks associated with trying meth once, the raw data shows that about half of those reports were statistically insignificant.

Most shocking, the study recorded a 3 percent jump -- which is, in fact, significant -- in the number of teens who "strongly approved" of using meth regularly. (Similar jumps were not reported for heroin, pot, or cocaine.)

It wasn't just talk, either. The study also showed a small increase in the percentage of both teens and young adults who'd given meth a try.

They're dispiriting statistics, but you would never know it by watching the press conference at the report's release. The press conference, which was broadcast live on the Web, featured a cheerful Siebel focusing on the ads' huge penetration in Montana: 90 to 93 percent of those surveyed, he said, reported seeing them.

"They uniformly report that the ads are credible," he says. "They say that these are important and should be seen again."

Siebel also praised the report's conclusion that the ads had caused parents and children to discuss meth: "It's clear that we dramatically raised the level of discussion about meth in Montana."

Then he proffered Lance Armstrong-style "Not Even Once" bracelets. "We need every kid in Montana wearing a 'Not Even Once' wristband before this is over," he said.

Skepticism about the project was curiously absent at the press conference -- not a single question dealt with the negative numbers in the report -- and in coverage in general.

Siebel, who funded the first phase of the campaign out of his own pockets, is now urging others to climb on-board.

The foundation Siebel set up in Montana is accepting donations. If Arizona decides to run the ads, the billionaire explained, it'll set up a similar organization to accept the government's multimillion-dollar donation.

And that won't be the end of it, Siebel cautioned.

"You're not going to do anything in six months, eight months, 12 months, really. This is something you have to sustain over years." And that, of course, means even more money.

The Arizona Republic, for example, reported Goddard's interest in the project last week and claimed, without giving a citation, that the ads caused meth use in Montana to drop 30 percent. The only possible source for the statistic appears to be an article in Montana's Bozeman Daily Chronicle, which quoted Siebel saying the ads could reduce teen use by 30 percent. (Chip Scutari, the Republic reporter who cited the statistic, did not respond to an e-mail seeking information.)

It's no wonder that Arizona politicians seem almost universally gung-ho about the campaign. Andrea Esquer, Goddard's spokeswoman, cautions that nothing is set in stone, but that "we have approached Mr. Siebel about bringing the project here." Jessica Berg, a special assistant to the county manager, confirms that Maricopa County Supervisor Stapley traveled to Montana for the press conference last week and that the supervisors "hope to put a pretty good amount of money toward it" -- perhaps as much as $2 million.

After finally reading the report, Huppenthal says he remains skeptical. He's been talking to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which has a local chapter in Phoenix and which is ready and willing to help out. He believes they may be a better choice.

But he's also intrigued by the focus group reaction to some of the ads in the Montana campaign.

"Some of these ads just blow your socks off, in terms of the perception of risk and coming off factually," he says. "Some of the other ads don't do that -- and the interesting thing will be if they restructure the campaign now based on the data they have."

Many of the radio ads, for example, are chilling in their simple facts. But others, particularly some of the TV ones, seemed ludicrous to the focus groups, according to the project's own researchers.

When it comes to the "Bathtub" commercial, for example, with the tweaked-out future self, a full 46 percent of young adults in the focus group agreed "strongly" or "somewhat" the risks of meth were exaggerated. (In a separate focus group, 47 percent of Native American teens came to the same conclusion.)

Numbers like that, Huppenthal says, means that the ads in question shouldn't be running.

But even he is not ruling out the Montana Meth Project for Arizona -- not yet.

"Some of these ads definitely need to be discarded," he says. "The target market didn't view them as credible. But they had a challenge in Montana because they had to go first. I think in Arizona, we can take advantage of the mistakes they made."

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*~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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