The Montana Meth Project has never been known for subtlety. When the nonprofit group formed more than a decade ago to combat the state’s epidemic of methamphetamine use, it committed to a brutally truthful messaging campaign designed to evoke fear and disgust about this drug addiction.
These two emotions, research confirmed, encourage “distancing behavior” among teens. And that’s exactly what the group was going for — something that would convince young people the highly addictive drug should never be touched, “not even once,” as its slogan urges.
Over the years, there have been attention-getting billboards, TV and online ads, social media, art and video contests, community outreach, public service projects from Oscar-winning filmmakers and much more, all bringing home the disturbing physical, psychological and societal toll of meth addiction. The frankness has lifted eyebrows at times, but it has also opened eyes, helping to contribute to a 63% decline in teen meth use in Montana since 2005.
Getting Answers About Meth
This same no-holds-barred formula is also put to powerful effect in the group’s central educational resource, methproject.org, a website that uses interactive graphics and a variety of media to take visitors on a tour of everything they risk from using the drug. It’s a must-see site for anyone who has ever felt even the slightest curiosity about using meth or for those who may have started down that path without fully understanding where it leads.
The site came about, explained Amy Rue, executive director of the Montana Meth Project, “because the majority of teens are getting their information online, but there didn’t seem to be a comprehensive, credible source of information about meth for them.” Methproject.org brought together volumes of scientific research from partners that include the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinic and many others. The result is “a definitive source that allows teens to gain an in-depth understanding of meth in an engaging, memorable and interactive way,” Rue said. “I don’t think there’s anything else like it.”
Consider the “Get Answers” section of the website. Click on “What is meth-induced psychosis?” and you’re able to shine a virtual flashlight around an eerily dark room, uncovering everything that meth psychosis entails — namely, delusions, paranoia, seeing and hearing things, hyperactivity and aggression.
Or if you want to know how meth affects your looks, you can try to pair up before and after mugshots of real meth users, or witness the step-by-step decay of “meth mouth.”
You can also hear 17-year-old “Ashley,” who started meth use at 13, narrate a video that illustrates what “crank bugs” are and why meth addicts sometimes find themselves trying to cut out or claw these imaginary insects from beneath their skin.
There’s also an inside look at what meth does to the brain. Click on the region related to “obsessive behavior,” for example, and you’ll learn that meth disrupts the brain’s brakes — its inhibitory control — and that can cause the user to repeat the same task for hours, over and over. And under “Does meth affect your heart?”, a normally beating heart can be taken into a meth-induced heart attack.
The section also includes the answer to what may be the most important question: what to do if someone you know is using meth. The short answer? Seek treatment without delay.
On every page of the site, Rue noted, is an ability to share the content, to tweet it, to promote it to friends. “And that comes full circle with the Meth Project’s main goal of fostering peer-to-peer authentic conversations about the risks of this drug,” she said.
The website also has a “Take Action” section for those who want to add their efforts to the meth fight. Among the resources is a meth prevention lesson plan full of facts and tools for educators who want to teach middle or high school students about meth dangers.
The website first came online in 2011 as an initiative of the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation, Rue said, and has been enthusiastically received. Thomas Siebel, Rue noted, is the businessman and philanthropist who originally founded the Montana Meth Project in 2005 out of concern for what meth was doing to the region. And the prevention effort continues to grow, spreading to five other states: Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho and Wyoming.
Speaking Up About Meth
Perhaps the most powerful and poignant spot on the methproject.org website is the “Speak Up” gallery, which provides a place for visitors to connect and share art, poems, videos and personal stories about what meth has done to them or someone they care about.
A visitor who identified himself as Brendan Sant offered this hard-earned advice:
“I am warning anybody who is curious about this drug, It is a complete gamble with the devil. You trade in not only your looks, your wealth, and your sense of self, you’ll never be able to live the same way again after trying this poison, the addiction seems to never end, one moment you will find yourself a week sober the next minute trying to buy some crystals and starting the nightmare all over again.”
Kaylee C shared the story of her meth-addicted mother leaving behind all those she loved:
“I am now adopted, I have been adopted for basically my whole life (I’m 16) and I have no idea where she is, how she is, or even if she is still alive. Drugs will not only affect you. I NEED people to understand this concept. Please think of your family, your future children. Think of everyone around you.”
Jeanette A. shared a harrowing personal tale, but ended with hope:
“Each and everyone of us is worth more than meth will ever allow us to be and can ever make us. Never give up.”
By Kendal Patterson
Follow Kendal on Twitter at @kendalpatterson