Montana's Gritty Meth Ads Are Turning Heads


March 30, 2006 — -- The ads most often seen in Montana these days are graphic and more than a little disturbing.

In one TV spot, you see a close-up of a teenager plucking her eyebrow with tweezers. The camera pans back and you see that she's completely tweezed off the other eyebrow, leaving angry red welts on her face. A voice-over says: "It's amazing what you can accomplish on meth."

The gritty, hard-hitting ads, created by the Montana Meth Project, all share the same message aimed at teenagers: Don't try meth, not even once. Click here for more on the Montana Meth Project.

Thomas Siebel, a software billionaire who lives part time in Montana, donated $5.6 million to help launch the ad campaign. Since the project kicked off in September, it has become the biggest advertiser in the state, with anti-meth messages popping up on billboards, television, radio and newspapers.

Siebel told "Nightline" that the ads simply reflect the dangers of methamphetamine, the stimulant that has ravaged many communities across the country, especially in the Midwest and West.

"The ads are disturbing. They're gripping. They're attention getting," Siebel said. "This is a disturbing subject ... This is difficult to sugarcoat, OK, this is about disease and degradation."

According to the Montana Meth Project, methamphetamine use by young people in Montana is dramatically higher than the national average, and its focus is solely on prevention -- to keep teens from even trying the drug.

Siebel and others say the graphic ads are realistic and reach teens in a way that other anti-drug campaigns have not.

"I think they weren't credible, they didn't reach us," Siebel said of the This Is Your Brain on Drugs campaign. "I think those were adults talking to adults, and in the meth project ... our message is young people talking to young people."

While the ads have stirred up some controversy, they have also gotten high marks from law enforcement and health officials in the state. And even more important to the project, they do seem to be getting kids' attention.

The radio ads feature real recovering meth addicts telling their stories, and the Montana Meth Project's Web site features personal accounts of several other former users.

Caitlin is one of the volunteers with the project who tells her story in a radio spot. She says she tried meth at 15 and from that point on she "had a problem." In the ad, she talks about how she was hanging out with "disgusting people" who were able to control her because of drugs.

She says in the ad that one of her worst moments was sitting in her room after doing a bunch of meth. "I felt like if I even moved one inch I would have a heart attack, my heart was beating so fast."

Caitlin is now clean, and the Montana Meth Project organizers hope stories like hers will reach other young people. But Siebel says that it will take time to measure the real success of the project.

"The approach that we're taking, it's not a short-term solution, it is not a quick fix," he said. "We're focusing on changing attitudes and behavior, but I don't think this is something that takes place over months. I think it's something that takes place over years, and possible decades."

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