Organizations: Georgia Meth Project
Speed Trap: The graphic ads jolt and revolt with their images, which usually include close-ups of fresh, young faces ravaged, after a couple of hits on a drug pipe, with lesions, rotting teeth and desperation.
“Not Even Once” is the insistent tagline of the Georgia Meth Project, a large-scale advertising campaign launched in 2009 to address the state’s methamphetamine epidemic, ranked the third worst in the country and estimated to cost at least $1.3 billion a year in healthcare and court expenses, lost productivity in the workplace, theft and property destruction.
The campaign specifically targets teens and young adults, inundating them with more than 20,000 television and radio spots and 170 million online impressions.
“It’s efficient, intensive market saturation for a highly specific group, for example primetime ads during American Idol, ball games, and MTV and VH1,” says Director Jim Langford. “Polling shows 35 percent of Georgians under 24 see absolutely no risk in trying meth, and, in fact, many see advantages to it – weight loss, help with concentration, fighting boredom.”
Hope in the West: The project began in Montana, where it is credited with reducing first-time meth use by 65 percent, a success rate that prompted former Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Lee Shaw of the Shaw Foundation to apply the program here.
“Montana went from having the fifth worst problem nationally to the 39th, so we’re hoping for the same or better impact in Georgia,” says Langford, whose family took in a foster child displaced by meth-related crises.
The GMP, a nonprofit with a budget of $6 million per year funded primarily through donations and grants, relies on a staff of four, about 550 volunteers, and ready-made resources from the California-based Siebel Foundation, which developed the Montana campaign and has begun implementing the ads in other hard-hit states.
“These commercials were researched and crafted by a sophisticated team of Hollywood producers, sociologists and addiction experts,” Langford says. “Because the ads have already been paid for, 95 percent of every dollar you donate goes to airing them. We also have radio spots of young Georgians telling their true stories, which are heartrending.”
Straight Talk: Atlanta has become an East Coast distribution hub for the drug, he notes.
“With a huge supply and a young population that doesn’t see any harm in it, that’s a recipe for disaster,” Langford says. “We aren’t trying to use scare tactics; we’re trying to educate about risks that are very real.”