Face2Face Computer Program Shows Kids Consequences of Meth Use

Myles said in Mobile County the program has been brought to high schools in the north and south, where the problem is greatest. They plan to roll out the program in more high schools, and middle schools as well.

"Statistics show us now that middle school is a target age where they're experimenting," she said. "We feel like the children are getting younger and younger that are exposed to it."

"Locally we've used it with middle school, high school and college classes," said Diana Apodaca, a special agent and community outreach agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration in El Paso, Texas.

"I think it's a good program, it really personalizes what the effects of drug use can be to the kids, versus them being able to put it into their mind that that can happen to somebody else," she said. "This really shows them the negative side, where once you're addicted to a drug and it's very difficult to stop, then it's too late."

Intuitively the program seems like a powerful one, because of the immediate and visible personal impact it has. But as some drug programs have shown in the past, that initial optimism can be misleading.

"There's been so many prevention efforts that seem promising initially, and really time will tell ... if it's having an effect," Mooney said. "It's just too premature to say whether it will be effective in actually changing drug use and drug behaviors."

However, Mooney said research could help in improving the program for the future.

"We can look at the data and help figure out what are the weaknesses of the program and how can it be modified to be more effective," she said.

The Difficulty of Knowing

While more research and therefore time is needed before Face2Face can be considered successful, it can be difficult -- and expensive -- to determine what, if any, effect the program is having.

"It's very, very costly and difficult to study people for years and years," Mooney said.

Tracking use of a particular drug can also be difficult in part because, like consumers of other goods, drug users can be sensitive to prices and availability.

"Usually it is a result of these prevention campaigns, in some areas it may mean other drugs are easier to access and some drugs are harder to access," said Eleni Sarris, president of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children.

Mooney explained that many of the shortcomings of past drug programs have come from exaggerating the risks from drug use.

"What we've learned from other prevention methods ... is that fear tactics don't work, they tend to backfire, because adolescents realize the worst-case scenario doesn't represent the truth," she said.

It was difficult to tell, she said, just how accurate the pictures generated by Face2Face are, because consequences of meth use depend on how heavy it is, but the picture shown with this article was not unrealistic.

"The consequences of any drug are not going to be the same for any two individuals," Mooney said.

Allman acknowledged the program may not fully succeed in the end. However, he said that when kids have seen their pictures, "We never got any reaction that wasn't a serious reaction. We think we found a way to get through to kids, not a perfect way, but we found a way."

The Face-to-Face in Face2Face

If the Face2Face program succeeds in Mendocino County, it might be for other reasons than just the face.

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