By Colin Gilbert
Methamphetamine abuse has become a serious problem among teenagers and young adults in Idaho. In 2007, the state ranked fourth in the country for meth use among individuals aged 12-25, and more than half of Idaho’s prison inmates acknowledged the drug as being directly involved with their initial imprisonment. It’s an alarming trend, but a recent advertising campaign from the Idaho Meth Project is working to stop users before they start.
In 2005, the Meth Project was formed to address what is still considered the number-one problem in Idaho—methamphetamine abuse. The powerful, highly addictive drug, which is often made in home “meth labs,” has become a widespread menace among the state’s youth, and the private, non-profit organization is founded on a passion for prevention. Their motto is simple—“Not even once.”
Beginning in January of 2008, the group released a series of graphic television commercials, billboards, radio spots, and print ads that were specifically designed to deter potential users through shocking factual evidence. In January of 2009, another wave of advertisements was released, and the Meth Project estimated that they would reach 70-90 percent of Idaho’s teens 3-5 times a week throughout the year.
A typical ad from the Meth Project displays, in vivid detail, the horrific effects of taking methamphetamine. One billboard, for example, features a zoomed-in photograph of a female meth user’s ravaged mouth. Rotting, broken teeth protrude from lips that are covered with cracked, open wounds, and the text below reads, “You’ll never worry about lipstick on your teeth again.” Most of the ads highlight the long-term dangers of methamphetamine and seek to destroy myths about it being sexy, fun, or in any way appealing.
Some Idaho residents are critical of the ads, calling them unnecessarily grotesque. However, most support the campaign’s mission to accurately represent the nightmarish consequences of meth addiction. One resident of Northern Idaho is aware that the disgusting image spanning the billboard above his pizza restaurant will inevitably squelch the appetites of some passersby and consequently hinder his business. Nevertheless, he understands that if the billboard prevents someone from trying meth, the good done by the advertisement outweighs the negative impact on his business.
So far, the Meth Project is pleased with its campaign’s results. Everyone seems to be talking about the ads, including families at the dinner table, and, as a result, there are fewer teens trying the drug. The 2008 Meth Use and Attitudes Survey reported that more young adults in Idaho disapprove of experimenting with the drug, and that about 9 out of 10 parents had discussed meth use with their children in the previous year. Of those who did, more than half credited the new ads with initiating the discussion.