Report Doubts Power of Montana Meth Project Ads

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS – An article in an academic journal questions the effectiveness of the Montana Meth Project’s campaign of starkly graphic anti-meth ads, and says further state funding for the project may be a misuse of tax dollars.

Montana Meth Project adminstrators say the review is misleading.

The article, “Drugs, Money and Graphic Ads: A Critical Review of the Montana Meth Project,” was published this month in Prevention Science. Author David Erceg-Hurn is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Western Australia.

Erceg-Hurn wrote that Montana Meth Project reports, which are based on statewide surveys, emphasize positive numbers and hide the bad news in the appendices.

Survey results actually showed that after six months of exposure to the ads, there was an increase in the percentage of teens who said using methamphetamine was not a risky behavior or who strongly approved of regular meth use, Erceg-Hurn wrote.

The Montana Meth Project has received millions of dollars from the state and federal governments, and several other states have developed ad campaigns based on the model used in Montana. The campaign has been widely lauded by state officials, including Attorney General Mike McGrath, since it began in 2005.

Erceg-Hurn said meth use was on the decline in Montana for at least six years before the Montana Meth Project was launched, adding that almost all teens recognized the drug as dangerous prior to the ad campaign.

“Legislators have been provided with a ‘sugar-coated’ account of the program’s effectiveness,” Erceg-Hurn said in an e-mail to the Great Falls Tribune, which reported Thursday on his findings. “The ads do not appear to be anywhere near as effective as the Meth Project has claimed.”

Montana Meth Project Executive Director Peg Shea defended the project, saying that Erceg-Hurn’s “limited analysis and statements are greatly outnumbered by the positive changes in attitudes detailed in our surveys and third-party research.”

Shea said a huge majority of teens who responded to the project’s surveys said the ads made them believe meth is dangerous to try even once.

Though meth use declined in the years before the Montana Meth Project was launched, use of the drug began to fall at a much faster rate after the ad campaign began, Shea said.

She acknowledged that the reduction in use also coincided with new state laws regarding the sale of cold medicine, which made it harder to purchase the main ingredients for meth.

Shea said the Montana Meth Project never took sole credit for reducing meth use in the state, but said the ads played an important role.