Review Faults Montana Meth Project Ads

The Montana Meth Project's (MMP) antidrug ad campaign has backfired, leading to fewer teens seeing meth use as harmful, more approving of use of the drug, and half of teens exposed to the ads calling them exaggerated, according to a new study


Methamphetamine rates have declined in Montana and nationally, but researcher David Erceg-Hurn of the University of Western Australia said the graphic anti-methamphetamine advertisements from MMP should not get the credit. “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.


Geoff Feinberg, vice president of Gfk Roper Public Affairs and Media, an independent research firm that has conducted several studies of the effectiveness of the Montana Meth Project, accused Erceg-Hurn of cherry-picking the research data, saying that the negative outcomes cited in his report “are greatly outnumbered by many the positive attitudinal shifts detailed in the Montana Meth Use & Attitudes Surveys.”


Erceg-Hurn wrote that teens exposed to six months of MMP advertisements showed a threefold increase in self-reporting the opinion that meth use is not a risky behavior, and teens also were more likely to report that using heroin or cocaine is not risky, either. Erceg-Hurn also found that teenagers who saw the ads were four times more likely to strongly approve of regular meth use.


The study also found that 50 percent of teenagers said they felt that the MPP advertisements exaggerated the risks associated with meth use.


“The idea behind the ad campaign is that teenagers take meth because they believe it is socially acceptable, and not risky — and the ads are meant to alter these perceptions,” said Erceg-Hurn. “However, this theory is flawed because the MPP's own data shows that 98 percent of teenagers strongly disapproved of meth use and 97 percent thought using meth was risky before the campaign started.”


“A more balanced assessment of the survey findings would have mentioned data confirming widespread recognition of the Meth Project and its advertising; the corresponding shifts in meth-related attitudes we would expect if the program were working; higher frequency of parent-child discussions on the subject; and the fact that parents, only after the program's launch, begin citing television advertising most often as the motivation for initiating meth-related parent-child conversations,” said Feinberg.


Feinberg chided Erceg-Hurn for failing to mention that “a majority of teen respondents agree that the ads made them less likely to try or use meth, helped them understand you can't try meth even once, and made them more aware of the risks of using meth.”


Erceg-Hurn advised against any more public funding for the MMP until credible evidence is gathered proving its effectiveness.


The review was published in the December 2008 issue of the journal Prevention Science.

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