This helped dry up the mom-and-pop labs, but dealers simply shifted their supply chain to Mexico. Prices went up, but addicts simply stole more to get what they needed.
When meth users began to cost Montana $100 million a year, a part-time rancher, Tom Seibel, came up with an idea: If you can't stop the supply, dry up the demand.
This concerned citizen and billionaire philanthropist, made a fortune designing software and thinking about the customer-product relationship, and applied that to this situation.
Meth is a product, Seibel believed, and if no one could stop the supply, then everyone should work on the demand. Two years ago, he set out to market the horrors of this product to the customer.
He hired an ad team to conduct focus groups with hundreds of kids, and once they settled on the most effective message, Hollywood director Darren Aronofsky came in to shoot a series of gritty public service announcements that depicted the effects of this drug for the Montana Meth Project.
Since most PSAs are doomed for the wee hours, Seibel spent millions of dollars to saturate prime-time television with a campaign that is creepy enough to scare the hell out of every 12-year-old in the state.
In one commercial, a girl describes her devotion to her boyfriend as he sells her body for meth. In another, a mother catches her jonesing son rifling through her purse — when she challenges him, he beats her into a pathetic pile on the kitchen floor.
The spots are a long way from the government's fried egg "this is your brain on drugs" ad campaign of yore, which is probably why the new ads work so well.
In just two years, teen meth use in Montana has been cut by nearly half, while abuse in neighboring states is on the rise. Positive workplace drug tests are down by 70 percent, and 96 percent of kids polled say they have discussed meth with a parent.
The project has been such a smashing success, 10 other states are poised to copy the campaign, and federal money will help produce new ads.
I rode along on a drug bust in Great Falls, raiding a house filled with unspeakable squalor, where two meth-addled teens live with their mother and a caged iguana.
Whether or not they have seen the ads makes no difference, because they are not the target demographic. "The chances of saving these people are slim," the officer told me. "Bu there's got to be a way to stop this, and that's where the Meth Project comes in. Let's stop a generation."