Graphic anti-meth ads catching on
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
MTV fans in Illinois can turn on the network in search of music videos but may instead see a clip in which a hooded young man rushes into a neighborhood Laundromat, brutally assaults a middle-aged customer and robs him while a family - baby in tow - watches in horror.
In Idaho , plans are in the works for a number of TV channels to show, during primetime hours, images of a teenage girl stepping into the shower only to discover her own hollow-faced, scab-covered likeness cowering on the floor of the bathtub.
All three states are replicating a highly touted advertising campaign that began in Montana and centers on a series of shocking and graphic TV commercials intended to grab the attention of viewers - especially young people - and warn them about the dangers of methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug that has been identified by law enforcement officials as a leading cause of crime nationwide.
The states have jumped at the chance to debut the ads at home, largely because of what many consider a success story in Montana . The state last month announced a nearly 50-percent drop in reported meth usage among high school students since the Montana Meth Project , a private advocacy organization founded by billionaire businessman and philanthropist Tom Siebel, introduced the ads two years ago.
According to a report by the Montana Office of Public Instruction , 4.6 percent of the state's high schoolers now say they have tried meth, compared with 8.3 percent in 2005. State leaders have directly connected that decline with the ad campaign, despite the already decreasing use of meth in state high schools between 1999 and 2005, as documented by the Office of Public Instruction in the same report.
"If it'll work in Montana , it'll work anywhere," U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said at a news conference Sept. 18 in Washington , where the state's congressional delegation joined Siebel and Julie Gerberding, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , to announce the state's meth decline and tout the ads.
At least seven other states - Alaska, California, Iowa, Indiana, Oregon, Kentucky and Washington - also could start airing the ads as part of an anti-meth initiative announced last month by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy . Utah, meanwhile, decided against the shock campaign in favor of its own public awareness drive against meth, unveiled by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) on Sept. 24 and aimed specifically at women ages 12 to 45, whose use of meth has increased in that state.
Funding for the anti-meth ads varies from state to state, but comes from private backers as well as state and federal grants.
The ads now being aired in Arizona and Illinois and soon to air in Idaho are the same as those created in 2005 by Siebel's Montana Meth Project. The organization, which has since grown into a national group simply called The Meth Project , covered the cost of developing and producing the ads and provides them to states for free, though states must pay for air time, said Executive Director Nitsa Zuppas.
Image courtesy of The Meth ProjectThe Meth Project created print ads to accompany TV commercials warning viewers about the dangers of meth. Click here to see all 11 print ads.
The TV commercials take various approaches to warn viewers about meth's dangers. In "Jumped," one of four commercials now airing in Arizona , for example, a narrator explains that he would rather be the victim of a brutal parking-lot assault - shown during the commercial - than be involved with meth.
Other ads portray the sickly faces of supposed meth addicts, who assault and steal from others to support their habits during the 30-second TV clips. The commercials, which are only being shown at night to prevent children from seeing the graphic images, all feature a simple slogan meant to prevent young people from ever wanting to try meth - "Meth: Not Even Once."
"You've got to hit these kids between the eyes because they think they're invincible," said Greg Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs' Association , which helped bring the ads to the state. "You've got to show them what this drug will do to them."
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R) has made the anti-meth campaign a top priority of his administration, contacting Siebel about bringing the ads to Idaho just days after taking office in January.
Otter wants the campaign to be funded entirely by private donors and has lobbied businesses around the state to contribute, according to the governor's spokesman, Jon Hanian, who was optimistic about Otter's chances of raising the estimated $2.7 million needed to run the TV, radio, print and billboard ad campaign for one year in the state.
"It's hard to say no to Butch," Hanian said.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard (D) also approached Siebel and helped create the state's own Meth Project - a sister organization to the state-level group founded by Siebel. Arizona 's multimedia ad campaign is expected to cost $5.3 million and has been partially funded by the Legislature, according to Andrea Esquer, Goddard's spokeswoman.
Illinois has funded its campaign primarily through federal dollars delivered by U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Sullivan, of the Illinois Sheriffs' Association, said.
The ads are not without controversy. Sullivan said he has received some complaints about the graphic nature of the ads. Utah , meanwhile, decided against using the commercials because officials there wanted to target women up to 45 years old instead of teenagers, and wanted to convey a different message.
Utah 's $2 million, state-funded campaign, called End Meth Now , is intended to dispel stereotypes about meth users by focusing on women in their child-bearing years, who increasingly are turning to the drug in the state, according to Mary Lou Emerson, director of the Utah Substance Abuse and Anti-Violence Coordinating Council .
"There's a lot of pressure in Utah for women to be the perfect wife or the perfect mother, and there's something attractive about meth (to them)," Emerson said. "It may appear attractive at the beginning, but it's a very addictive substance. Part of the campaign is trying to get the accurate facts and information about meth out."