New anti-meth ads sell hopeby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
For the past few years anti-meth billboards have been designed to shock you. Remember the ones with the before and after pictures? They show disheveled methamphetamine addicts missing teeth and looking years older than their actual age. Drug experts say those billboards have been very effective at warning people about the dangers of meth. But they say the ads haven't conveyed to the public that meth addicts can kick their habit. Now a new anti-meth campaign is focusing on the hope of recovery.
St. Paul, Minn. — The new campaign is a conscious effort to send a different message about meth addiction.
Robert Denniston directs the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Denniston says the new message doesn't mean officials are abandoning the old billboards.
"Those ads are very hard-hitting, very impactful," says Denniston. "But what we're trying to get across now is that there is progress, that there is hope. So many people are cynical that they think well meth is so horrible, it's so addictive that recovery is not possible. We know from the research that it is possible. And these photographs of people here today really give living proof to that view."
Denniston is referring to a photographic exhibit that's part of the new anti-meth campaign. It shows smiling, healthy-looking people who have successfully overcome their addictions.
Catherine Stone is in one of the photographs. She started using meth when she was 19 and didn't quit until she got arrested at age 28 for dealing the drug. "I wouldn't even recognize the person that I was," says Stone. "It got way out of control, where I would steal your wallet and help you go look for it. You know I was a mean, mean lady."
Stone spent 18 months in prison. Now she lives in a so-called "sober house" in south Minneapolis where she's on a strictly supervised prison release program. Stone says she hasn't used meth in three years. "If you want to change your life you can change your life. You know it's not out of grasp," says Stone.
That's exactly the message officials hope to convey with their new anti-meth campaign.
Carol Falkowski directs the Chemical Health Division at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. She says meth addictions can be very powerful. But she says meth recovery programs have about the same success rate as other addiction programs.
"One of the things that people don't always realize is that treatment sometimes needs to be repeated. Sometimes multiple treatment episodes are the norm rather than the exception when it comes to addiction. And that's true with meth. It's true with alcohol. It's true with many drugs," says Falkowski.
There are signs that meth use is declining in Minnesota. Falkowski says meth-related deaths are down. So are the number of people being hospitalized and treated for meth.
"We have seen sort of a peak and a decline since the beginning of '06 in the number of people seeking treatment for meth which we hope reflects a decline in the number of actual users of meth."
Falkowski says she thinks the state's aggressive public awareness campaign about the dangers of meth has helped curb the drug's use, along with a recent state law restricting sales of pseudoephedrine, a meth-making chemical. She credits that law with dramatically reducing the number of meth labs in the state.
But she acknowledges that there's still a lot of work to be done. Meth use among Minnesota's young adult population is about twice the U.S. national average. And while the number of labs in Minnesota may be declining, meth coming from Mexico is still the main source of drugs for Minnesota addicts.
- All Things Considered, 11/28/2007, 5:44 p.m.