The Facts: The Montana Meth Project (Faces of Meth) Does Not Work
Methamphetamine use was trending downward already, and the research shows that the project has had no discernable impact on meth use
--D. Mark Anderson: UW doctoral student in economics.
It is probably one of the most famous anti-drug campaigns in the US. The The Montana Meth Project or as it commonly known, The Faces of Meth was so popular in Montana that several states including Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, Hawaii and Georgia, took it up. It’s success was impressive and it fitted in with the usual scare campaigns that make politicians and parents so happy. The problem was that no one outside the organisation had actually studied it’s so called success. And when someone did, the MMP’s results fell well short of their grandeur claims of success.
Organisation: Montana Meth Project
Campaign: Faces of Meth
When: 2004 -
Laugh Out Loud Rating: 7/10
You have to give some credit to an organisation that plasters billboards all over the US showing scabby, deteriorating faces in an attempt to sell something. Granted, it wasn’t perfume or a yummy hamburger but still, a risky marketing strategy. But this was an anti-drug campaign, where organisations compete to bring us the nastiest, most confronting images possible. The search for an effective message to reduce risky drug use isn’t the goal here. This is the world of the anti-drug nutter where lies, moral imperatives and exaggerated scenarios win out over facts and reality.
The bottom line: The Montana Meth Project (Faces of Meth) does not work. The powerful images of what too much meth can do to you have taken away the need to analyse the actually results. Like most scare campaigns, confronting images are automatically credited as being effective. The truth is, scare campaigns about drugs have never worked but after 70 years of Reefer Madness and showing the extreme circumstances of chronic drug abuse, they still don’t. They might help parents and the public feel like something is being done. They might portray a proactive police force or vigilant politician. They might even deter a drug user for a short while. But in the end, it’s the facts that count and the reality that the US public has been played by the powerful anti-drug lobby.
Montana Meth Project Didn't Reduce Use, Study Finds
Stop The Drug War (Issue #650)
by Phillip Smith
In 2005, Montana had one of the highest rates of methamphetamine use in the country, and businessman Thomas Siebel responded with the Montana Meth Project, an anti-meth campaign relying on graphic advertisements feature users' bodies decaying, teen girls prostituting themselves for meth, teens committing violent crimes to support their habits, and groups of young meth users allowing their friends to die.
The project has been widely touted as reducing meth use rates in Montana, and the Montana Meth Project makes similar claims on its results page. Based on claimed results in Montana, similar programs have gotten underway in Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, Hawaii and, this past March, Georgia.
But a new study from the University of Washington published in this month's issue of the Journal of Health Economics casts doubt on the project's claim to have influenced meth use rates. The rate of meth use in Montana was already declining by the time the Montana Meth Project got underway, the study found.
"Methamphetamine use was trending downward already, and the research shows that the project has had no discernable impact on meth use," said study author D. Mark Anderson, a UW doctoral student in economics.
Anderson said the project had not been empirically and rigorously scrutinized until his study. Using data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anderson compared meth use rates to rates nationwide and in nearby states. Using demographically similar Wyoming and North Dakota, which undertook no anti-meth project programs, as control cases, Anderson showed that in all three states, meth use declined gradually between 1999 and 2009.
Anderson also scrutinized drug treatment admission reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and found that the Montana Meth Project had no measurable effect on meth use among young Montanans. His findings suggested that other factors, such as law enforcement crackdowns prior to 2005 or increasing knowledge of the ill-effects of meth use, were more likely to have led to declining levels of meth use.
"Perhaps word got around on the street, long before the campaign was adopted, that meth is devastating," Anderson said. "Future research, perhaps of meth projects in the other states, should determine whether factors that preceded the campaigns contributed to decreases in usage."
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