'Innovative and Hard-Hitting' ? Effective


This week the Office of National Drug Control Policy presented the "innovative and hard-hitting" Montana Meth Project with a "certificate of recognition" for its "significant role in helping to drive meth from the State." ONDCP Director John P. Walters called the project's over-the-top ads, which warn that methamphetamine use inevitably leads to addiction, prostitution, rotten teeth, oozing sores, and compulsive eyebrow plucking, "a key component of a balanced strategy against Meth" and "a critical prevention campaign that keeps Montana's young people safe from the dangers of Meth." The project bragged that the spots, which have been saturating Montana's airwaves since last fall, "have gained nationwide attention for their uncompromising approach."

But not, alas, for their effectiveness. The Montana Meth Project's own survey data, released in April, indicate that, after six months of exposure to the ads, teenagers and young adults were, if anything, less likely to believe that using meth once or twice poses a "great" or "moderate" risk. The same goes for using meth "regularly." Meanwhile, the share of teenagers who thought using meth regularly posed "no risk" increased from 3 percent to 8 percent.

The project's report buried these numbers (see the tables on page 56) and instead highlighted increases in perceptions of specific risks. But there's no evidence the campaign has had an effect on behavior. As the ONDCP itself notes, CDC survey data indicate meth use among Montana teenagers has been falling since 1999, six years before the Montana Meth Project launched its campaign.

The sharp drug policy reporter Jessie McQuillan took a skeptical look at the campaign earlier this year in the Missoula Independent. Among other things, she notes experts' skepticism about ads that try to scare teenagers away from drugs with exaggerated claims, which have the potential to backfire.

It's appropriate, in a sense, that the ONDCP is honoring an alarmist ad campaign whose own evaluations indicate that it's ineffective, since the ONDCP has spent more than $1 billion in taxpayer money on its own hyperbolic anti-drug ads, with nothing to show for it. But who is going to give John Walters a certificate?

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  1. “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  2. Anyon who thinks the ONDCP is doing anything but wasting money must be on drugs.

  3. I’d like to send Mr Walters a love letter, straight from my heart.

  4. Using Clean and Sober’s idea: how about ads that warn that drug use could lead to mindless support for giant bureaucracies that waste money for no results. Of course, to be an ONDCP ad, it would have to warn that these bureaucracies will waste eleventy trillion dollard per second.

  5. Young people listen to the hysterical hyperbole about marijuana use and soon discover, through personal experience, that the government is a lying dog. So when the government warns of the dangers of drugs that really can do you harm, they are highly skeptical, which they should be. People involved in the street level drug culture figure out fast what does what, and what the consequences are. The lost souls worth saving usually (not always) save themselves, the one’s born-to-be-scum dive in deeper (water finds it’s own level). People who are into meth know exactly what happens just by looking at the dealers and other long-time users; 35 year old men and women who look 50, have ugly teeth, twitchy mannerisms and shakey ethics.

    If the drug warriors want young people to believe them about meth, they need to stop lying about weed.

  6. Can’t we just castrate the damn things like we do to the elephants?

  7. Commander Bragg


    While “I’ve got a little list, they’d none of them be missed” myself, I don’t see the relevance of your comment.

  8. BTW, has anyone seen the new ONDCP commercial? Rather than saying you’ll kill someone, hurt yourself, or go insane while on pot, it acknowledges that it’s a pretty benign drug. This newest commercial instead has the kid saying, “I sat on my friends couch for 12 hours after smoking pot. I’d rather take my chances out in the real world” (while showing footage of people biking, hiking, swimming, and having a generally good old time). I smoked a lot of pot in college and beyond but NEVER have I sat on the same couch for 12 hours! I was usually out biking, hiking, swimming, or having a generally good old time.

    I think ONDCP is getting desperate…

  9. I am less than 10 years removed from being part of the target audience, and I have a fairly good memory of what it was like. As teenagers, we all knew that drugs existed on a spectrum from ok to bad. Kids at my school had completely different attitudes about, for example, marijuana and heroin. We also knew full well that every adult was obligated to take a zero-tolerance stance against any illegal drug of any type, and that they were generally not a good source for honest information. And I think we knew (at least I knew) that they did this because they would get into trouble amongst each other if they didn’t.

  10. Unfortunately while the target audience is skeptical many of their parents and grandparents seem to be buying ONDCP lies hook, line, and sinker.

  11. I live in Great falls, and I can tell you, the worst part of this campaign is in the billboards.

    You’re driving down the road, on your way to the only bbq joint in town, you pull into the small parking lot, and look up to see on a 20ft billboard the face of a woman whose lips are covered in gory, very real-looking makeup to make it look like sores have almost eaten them away entirely. These things are all over town, showing people’s faces in various advanced states of decay with witty captions like: “you’ll never have to worry about getting lipstick on your teeth if you take meth.” They rival some of the abortion is murder posters for greusomeness, and are widely regarded as a driving hazard because when you see someone’s face like that… well, it’s just hard to look away.

    Of course, Great Falls seems to have a thing for dangerously distracting (and unsettling) billboards. They have another one of a man in a police hat with his hands covering his face, but his eyes are somehow superimposed on top of his fingers, as if they’re somehow coming *through* the fingers. I swear, every time I see that thing I get a flashback to that movie “the Ring,” I don’t think that’s the kind of freakout effect that they were looking for. The caption says “if you drink and drive, you can’t hide from the law” or something to that effect. (if anyone can explain the logic of that particular imagery to me, I’d like to hear it)

  12. Well, it fit in for the elephant thread and the baboon thread, why not for the drug warrior thread?

    I’m old and lonely….

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