The Real Surprise: Only 50 Percent Thought the Ads Exaggerated


The Montana Meth Project, an absurdly hyperbolic ad compaign that warns of ghastly consequences from even the most casual contact with the stimulant (its tag line: "Not Even Once"), has attracted state and federal funding, generated plaudits across the country, and spawned similar efforts in other states. Yet according to a research review in the December issue of the journal Prevention Science, there is no evidence the campaign works and several indications that it's counterproductive. The author, David Erceg-Hurn, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Western Australia, notes that "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." Furthermore, exposure to the ads is associated with what are usually considered to be undesirable attitude changes:

Following six months exposure to the MMP's graphic ads, there was a threefold increase in the percentage of teenagers who reported that using meth is not a risky behaviour; teenagers were four times more likely to strongly approve of regular meth use; teenagers were more likely to report that taking heroin and cocaine is not risky; and up to 50% of teenagers reported that the graphic ads exaggerate the risks of using meth.

Erceg-Hurn concludes:

Claims that the campaign is effective are not supported by data. The campaign has been associated with increases in the acceptability of using methamphetamine and decreases in the perceived danger of using drugs. These and other negative findings have been ignored and misrepresented by the MMP. There is no evidence that reductions in methamphetamine use in Montana are caused by the advertising campaign. On the basis of current evidence, continued public funding and rollout of Montana-style methamphetamine programs is inadvisable.

I criticized meth hyperbole in a 2005 column and raised concerns similar to Erceg-Hurn's about the Montana campaign in 2006. The project's backers should take comfort from the fact that similar levels of empirical support did not prevent the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign from receiving $1.5 billion in taxpayer money since 1998 or keep DARE from becoming (and remaining) the dominant drug "education" model in the nation's schools.

[via the Drug War Chronicle]