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Study Questions the Effectiveness of Anti-Meth Ad Campaigns

A recent independent review that looked into the effectiveness of a particular publicly funded anti-methamphetamine ad campaign found that it seems to cause more negative than positive outcomes. The findings of the study were published in the current issue of the Prevention Science, which is a journal of the Society for Prevention Research (SPR).

In 2005, the Montana Meth Project (MMP) was created with the aim of reducing methamphetamine use in the state. The project consisted of graphic ad campaigns that featured the consequences of using meth even once. The campaign was originally funded by private institutions but later on, it also received millions of dollars in state and federal funding. For policy makers and media practitioners, the MMP was a success and because of this, the campaign was also adopted in other states including Idaho, Illinois and Arizona. Other states are also expected to follow suit in the next couple of years.

The review, however, identified various negative consequences that are linked to the ad campaign. “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 behavior; 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.”

According to the review, the MMP failed to take into account these results when they were promoting the findings of their research to people who would fund the campaigns. The people behind the project chose to focus on the positive results instead.

David Erceg-Hurn, graduate student of Clinical Psychology at the University of Western Australia and author of the review, criticized MMP’s claims that their campaign was successful in reducing the cases of meth use in the state. “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,” he said. Erceg-Hurn further explained that the ad campaign was released around the same time when the state placed restrictions on the accessibility of cold and flu medications. The reduction in meth use may also be attributed to the decrease in production.

The review further points out that in most cases, anti-drug ad campaigns may do more harm than good. Previous research has already proven that these graphic campaigns are ineffective because they do not really work in reducing drug use.

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