Encouraged by results of a survey following a year of a project discouraging young people from indulging in crystal methamphetamine, the Hawaii Meth Project has launched its second year of television, radio, online and print advertisements. The project has showed signs of success and should go forward.
The project drew skepticism last fall by the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, which asserted that "abstinence-based and fear-based programs are not effective in reducing the use of drugs by teens." That may be true in trying to discourage youngsters from trying alcohol, marijuana and other substances, but meth has risen to a category of its own.
Carrying the theme of "not even once," the project’s public-service TV commercials portray users to be immediately addicted at their initial sniff, swallow or injection of the drug, leading to ugly physical consequences. Meth triggers dopamine, a brain’s neurotransmitter, blocking enzymes that help to break down other invasive drugs and causing euphoria for 10 to 12 hours. Over time, it can reduce dopamine levels, eventually wreaking havoc on the brain.
"There’s no way that any ad would be too hard-hitting," Hawaii Family Court Judge Michael Broderick told the Star-Advertiser in a conference with the Hawaii Meth Project.
Crystal meth was introduced in the islands before spreading to the mainland. Hawaii ranked fifth in the nation in 2007 in meth used by people 12 and older. More recent rankings are unavailable, but Hawaii police say the state still has one of the largest user populations in the country.
Surveys conducted by the Hawaii Meth Project indicate that 54 percent of the state’s teens and 67 percent of young adults regard taking crystal meth as a "great risk," a 10 percent increase in both categories.
Montana, where the model project was launched in 2005, ranked fifth in meth use but now is 39th, with meth use having declined by 62 percent. Use has dropped by more than half in Arizona and Idaho, which began their projects in 2008.
The Hawaii Meth Project has operated on $2 million a year in private contributions. The Montana project receives federal funding. Cindy Adams, the Hawaii Meth Project’s executive director, said the local effort will seek state and federal assistance when the economy improves. A 2005 Rand Corp. study showed that meth abuse costs Hawaii $500 million a year in health care, foster care, treatment, incarceration and lost work time.
The Hawaii Meth Project has been successful in finding donors to support its effort – and will need to continue to go that route. The state is in no position to add to the pool, and the project will not be able to get in line in the foreseeable future with other worthwhile nonprofits that have lost public funding because of the state’s budget crisis.