Pubdate: Mon, 13 Jun 2011
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Copyright: 2011 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Author: Andria Simmons


The stories are real. The experiences are harrowing. And the messages 
appear to be effective.

A year after its $4 million advertising campaign rolled out, The 
Georgia Meth Project will release this week a survey that found 52 
percent of teenagers believe there is "great risk" in taking 
methamphetamine just once or twice. That's an 11 point gain over the 
benchmark survey conducted last year, before the messaging campaign 
hit the airwaves.

More young people also believe that using meth will negatively 
influence a younger sibling and increase the risks of losing control, 
suffering brain damage and stealing, the survey said.

The campaign slogan, "Not Even Once, " encourages teens not to 
experiment with meth. One of the print ads shows a jail cell and 
says, "Nobody thinks they'll spend a romantic evening here. Meth will 
change that."

Another television ad shows a girl in a bathrobe talking to a friend 
on the phone. "Yeah," she says, "my parents think I'm sleeping at 
your house." Moments later, the girl is showering when she turns and 
screams upon seeing a scarred, bleeding version of herself huddled in 
the bathtub, shaking her head and warning "don't do it."

Some local teens indicated the ads struck a chord.

Erica Beckelhymer, a 15-year-old student at Lassiter High School in 
Marietta, said the TV commercials are pretty realistic.

"They are kind of weird, but I definitely remember them," Beckelhymer 
said. "I feel like it's more relatable to me, not that I do meth or 
anything like that. I would never do drugs, but it's more relatable 
because it's got teenagers in it."

Anna Dowling, a 16-year-old student at Druid Hills High School in 
Atlanta, recalled a radio ad where a teenage girl talked about her 
teeth falling out.

The ads made her more aware of "just how dangerous it is, and the 
effect it has on people," said Dowling, who said neither she nor her 
close friends had used meth. She now perceives meth as being more 
dangerous than other highly addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Dowling's father, Michael, said the ads are more effective than 
anti-drug commercials he remembers seeing growing up, like one from 
Partnership for a Drug-Free America where a man cracked an egg over a 
skillet and said, "This is your brain on drugs... Any questions?"

"It became almost a cliche as soon as it came out," Michael Dowling 
said. "I thought this approach was better."

It's unclear if the ads are having an impact on crime or the drug's 

About a fifth of the teens surveyed said meth was easy to get, 
roughly the same results as last year.

The number of methamphetamine labs in Georgia has been steadily 
rising, from 167 to 257 between 2007 and 2010, according to the GBI. 
Between 2008 and 2010, the amount of the drug seized by law 
enforcement also soared from 51 kilograms to 279 kilograms, according 
to the latest Drug Enforcement Administration.

In February, three young children died in a fire at a house near 
Lilburn in unincorporated Gwinnett County that was caused by toxic 
chemicals used to manufacture meth. In the same county in November, 
police made one of the largest meth busts in history, seizing 933 
pounds of the drug, worth an estimated $44 million, after raiding a 
"super lab." Cpl. Jake Smith, a spokesman for the Gwinnett County 
Police Department, said investigators there are still dealing with 
meth cases on a regular basis.

In Rockdale County, where a suspected rolling meth lab forced police 
to shut down part of downtown Conyers in October, police say they 
have seen no change in meth-related arrests in recent months. If 
anything there have been more, said Melissa, an undercover 
investigator with the Rockdale-Conyers Narcotics/Vice Unit who asked 
that her last name be withheld for safety reasons.

The detective said, even if the campaign resonated with only a few 
kids, it would be worthwhile because meth is such a devastating drug. 
Still, young teens who say no to meth now because of the graphic ads 
are still in danger because they might change their minds later, in 
college, when they are prone to experiment, the detective said.

"It's a great bandwagon to jump on, and a great platform for schools 
to get behind, but it's not unlike contraception or DUI pledges or 
promise rings," Melissa said.

The campaign targets teenagers between 12 and 17 because statistics 
show that is the age range when most people try meth for the first 
time. To that end, the shifting attitude among teenagers measured in 
the survey has exceeded expectations, said Jim Langford, the 
executive director of Georgia Meth Project.

The project is privately-funded, but it partners with state agencies 
to promote its message. There are similar efforts underway in seven 
other states: Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Montana and Wyoming.

There will be a total of four phases of advertisements. The second 
year-long phase starts on Tuesday.

"Hopefully, in a three or four-year period, we would see changes so 
significant that you begin to truly stigmatize meth use," Langford 
said. "So you get a higher and higher percentage of kids who say 
'that's not something I want.'"

More Georgia Meth Project survey results:

87 percent of teens say the ads helped them understand meth is 
dangerous to try just once.

90 percent of teens say that, if their brother, sister, or a friend 
were thinking about trying meth, they would want them to see or hear 
one of the ads.

85 percent of teens strongly disapprove of using meth once or twice 
(up 5 points from last year).

53 percent say they have told their friends not to use meth (up 7 
points from last year).

42 percent say they have discussed the subject of meth with their 
parents in the past year (up 7 points from last year).

*Survey information provided by the Georgia Meth Project
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart