Targeting a Message


Drugs will kill you.
Drugs fry your brain.
Drugs are really really bad for you.


Youth drug prevention messages have taken many forms over the years. As seen above, many are abstract to young people and offer little motivation for children faced with the decision to experiment with various types of illicit substances. In my opinion, the “drugs will kill you” strategy was one of the least effective-—a scare tactic that flounders once young people see their peers taking drugs and not immediately passing away.

Fortunately, innovative programs are available to show youth the dangers of substance abuse. Deputy Bret King decided to take a different approach in educating young people about methamphetamine abuse in his jurisdiction:

Faces of Meth is a project of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. This project began when a deputy in the Corrections Division Classification Unit, Deputy Bret King, put together mug shots of persons booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center.

Deputy King worked with his co-workers in the Classification Unit to identify people who had been in custody more than once. He then worked to verify criminal records and files to determine and assure a history of methamphetamine related use.

Deputy King also started interviewing people in custody to learn of their drug use, experiences with methamphetamine, how or if methamphetamine contributed to their criminality, and asked what they would tell young people about methamphetamine.

What Deputy King set out to do was create a realistic presentation about methamphetamine. He didn’t want to create something that made people curious about a drug nor that was a scared straight program. The idea was simple, be honest with kids, let them hear directly from the inmates, and show them what people who work on the front lines – whether it be a Corrections Deputy in the Jail, a Police Officer on the streets or a Public Health Nurse in a clinic see methamphetamine doing to people and to our communities...

King's work resulted in a serious of mug shots and below is one of the many images at the Faces of Meth site:


Preach to a young person about the negative health risks associated with meth use and you will most likely get a look of slumber and inattentiveness. In contrast, show a youth before and after pictures of a meth abuser complete with large blisters, rotting teeth, and other facial problems—-and you immediately have their attention. The photographic evidence displayed on the Faces of Meth website is haunting.

At a leadership conference a couple of years ago, I was helping high school students design a project related to combating drug abuse in their schools. They were stumped trying to transform the anti-drug statistics into a cogent message that could be internalized by their peers. After showing them the Faces of Meth website, they used the information from that URL as the centerpiece of their project.

I believe Deputy King's work represents how one person's small idea can make a sizeable impact on a problem as large as drug abuse by young people.

3 comments:

mappchik said...

All the money spent on edgy public service ads for television campaigns and school anti-drug programs, and all I remember from my teens were the jokes we made about "just say no" and frying eggs. I doubt it's any different today, with the clever 30 second myantidrug spots.

Faces of Meth is what the PSAs should be.

Sandra G. said...

Faces of Meth is a great idea - it really shows the kids what will happen to them.

On several occasions I've taken highschool skids into the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver's area with a huge drug problem. The residents in the area, who for the most part are drug addicted and living on nothing, are more than willing to talk to kids and try to steer them away from a life of drugs. The shock value is what the kids remember.

Good post, Slamdunk

Slamdunk said...

MC: I should look up the research behind the newer anti-drug spots to see what how they are grounding their message.

Sandra: Thanks. It is great that you do that for the young people of your community and show them that they are not invincible by putting a face and a story with bad decisions.