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Anti-meth ads graphic; likely effective
Courier editorial
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Earlier this month, many Georgia television viewers, newspaper readers, radio listeners and Internet users likely were shocked at the graphic images, stomach-turning descriptions and bluntly worded warnings that turned up on their screens, pages and radios. The candid messages are part of The Georgia Meth Project, a hard-hitting ad campaign designed to discourage meth use among teenagers.
The controversial advertisements, which have garnered some criticism, certainly don’t pull any punches. One print ad shows a filthy bathroom with the words, “No one thinks they will lose their virginity here. Meth will change that.”
In a radio ad, a young addict recalls his parents’ horrified reaction when he tried to hang himself. “They were devastated seeing their baby boy hanging from a tree, lifeless, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth,” the ad said.
A television ad reveals a teenager, high on meth, seemingly watching from outside his body in disbelief as he robs a petrified family and several customers in a laundromat.
While many law enforcement officials and the campaign’s creators say the startling images and first-person accounts are necessary to build an effective deterrent, critics argue the advertisements may actually backfire.
The campaign, which has been implemented in eight states, including Georgia, originally began in Montana in 2005. According to a recent Dalton Daily Citizen article, a study published by the journal “Prevention Science” in 2008 found the Montana Meth Project’s data actually suggest that teenagers’ exposure to the ads may lead them to believe using meth is acceptable and not deadly.  
Similarly, in a news summary on the Web site, University of Western Australia researcher David Erceg-Hurn said, “Some teenagers react negatively to graphic advertising. These people don’t like being told how to behave by the ads and may rebel against them.”
The critics’ points are understandable, however, debatable. Nearly any uncomfortable or distressing situation in life becomes bearable or even dismissible after prolonged exposure. For example, the violence, nudity and foul language that often pass for entertainment in motion pictures these days would have shocked and disgusted adult viewers in the 1940s and ’50s. In 2010, movie patrons scarcely pay any attention to what once would have been deemed vulgar. Why? Because audiences are desensitized. They’ve grown up believing it’s acceptable subject matter.
And of course certain teenagers will always possess rebellious streaks, fiercely opposing any behavioral suggestions. They’re teens — it’s in their nature. But for every young adult who decides it’s a good idea to try drugs simply because society discourages it, there will be several others who understand the dangerous implications of experimenting with illegal substances, thanks to repeated warnings, drug-awareness programs and, perhaps, disturbing advertising campaigns like the one in question.
There’s no doubt the images and wording in the Georgia Meth Project ads are graphic and controversial. But if they get the message across and help to decrease meth use, the advertisements are absolutely necessary.
According to the project’s Web site,, Georgia ranks third in the United States in meth users between ages 12 and 17. A recent Associated Press article reported meth abuse costs the state an estimated $1.3 billion annually in rehabilitation services, health care and legal expenses. Not to mention, the drug kills children.
Meth use is undeniably problematic in Georgia. Past awareness campaigns and programs clearly haven’t thwarted the drug’s popularity in our state. So, before critics condemn the new campaign and its non-traditional approach, let’s see where it leads. If even a few would-be meth users never get started, the program can claim success.
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