Study Questions Value of Anti-Meth Campaign

THURSDAY Dec. 11, 2008 -- An anti-methamphetamine campaign that utilizes graphic images actually may not be very effective, a new study found.

The Montana Meth Project (MMP), created in 2005, featured images that showed the extreme consequences of using meth "just once." The perceived success of the program had resulted in its implementation in a number of other states.

However, an independent review of the program suggests it's associated with a number of negative outcomes.

The review found that after six months of the MMP's graphic ads: there was a three-fold increase in the percentage of teens who said they believed using meth isn't a risky behavior; teens were four times more likely to strongly approve of regular meth use; teens were more likely to report that taking heroin and cocaine isn't risky; and up to 50 percent of teens said the graphic ads exaggerated the dangers of meth use.

Initially, the MMP was privately funded, but it has since received millions of dollars in state and federal funding because it's promoted as a major success to policy makers and the media. However, the review found that those in charge of the MMP emphasized only positive findings and overlooked the numerous negative results when touting the program.

The program and public funding should be put on hold until further research can determine its effectiveness, said review author David Erceg-Hurn, who's currently completing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Western Australia. He dismissed claims that MPP has reduced meth use in Montana.

"Meth use had been declining for at least six years before the ad campaign commenced, which suggests that factors other than the graphic ads cause reductions in meth use. Another issue is that the launch of the ad campaign coincided with restrictions on the sale of cold and flu medicines commonly used in the production of meth. This means that drug use could be declining due to decreased production of meth, rather than being the result of the ad campaign," Erceg-Hurn said in a Society for Prevention Research news release.

He also attacked the theory underlying the MPP's graphic ad campaign.

"The idea behind the ad campaign is that teenagers take meth because they believe it is socially acceptable, and not risky, and the ads are meant to alter these perceptions. However, this theory is flawed because the Meth Project's own data shows that 98 percent of teenagers strongly disapproved of meth use and 97 percent thought using meth was risky before the campaign started," Erceg-Hurn said.

The study was published in the December issue of the journal Prevention Science.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about methamphetamine.

Posted: December 2008


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