A promising new program aims to prevent teenagers from trying methamphetamine by showing them how the drug might alter their appearance for the worse within a few years.
Utilizing cameras and software originally designed to show patients what they might look like after plastic surgery, a computer program known as Face2Face can show students what they could look like in a few years if they use meth, owing to effects on teeth, skin and hair from drug use.
"I think that it's definitely an innovative approach in that it's showing the consequences of meth in a very personalized manner," said Dr. Larissa Mooney, a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of addiction at UCLA.
The program takes one step further the anti-meth campaigns instituted in several states that use before and after photographs of real meth addicts to show how the drug ravages not only a person's health, but also their looks.
"Adolescents are known to be at an age [where they are] concerned about their appearance," said Mooney.
Personalizing the experience and showing teens the possible consequences of meth use for them was a primary goal of the project, which was conceived by Mendocino County, Calif., Sheriff Thomas Allman, a former narcotics officer, and developed by Abalone, LLC, a software company based near San Francisco.
"The point of the face program is that it personalizes the message and makes the message really exciting. The message sticks, it has a retention value," said Laslo Vestremi, chief executive officer of Abalone.
Allman came up with the idea when, at the mall with his wife, he saw a cosmetics counter with a program to show customers what they would look like with various types of makeup.
He had been frustrated with the growing methamphetamine epidemic in his county, and the two ideas came together.
"Kids think that they have this Teflon coating on them and nothing bad happens to them," Allman said of the reaction when they are told of possible drug consequences. "They basically convince you it happens to other kids."
With his idea, however, kids could see the consequences for them. He contacted what he estimates to be more than 20 software companies before he reached out to Vestremi, leading to the creation of Face2Face a little less than a year ago.
The program has not been limited to Mendocino County.
"The first time we displayed it was at our county fair [in October]," Mobile County, Ala., Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Lori Myles said.
Hannah Cagle, 17, a senior at Mary G. Montgomery High School in Semmes, a suburb 15 miles northwest of Mobile, was among the first to try the program there, coming into the police station to do so through a class.
"It's not exactly the most gorgeous picture of myself I've ever seen," she said. "Obviously it can't be perfected because it's just a picture, it's not a re-creation." But, she added, "It kind of brings you down to earth a little bit."
Prior to the class, Cagle said she wasn't very familiar with the meth problem, although, she said, "I know of a few houses that burned down due to meth last year."
But, she said the picture was powerful in stressing how damaging meth can be.
"It's weird to see yourself look that way," she said. "It's a good experience because you never want to see yourself that way, but it is weird."