William Blackie lost everything to meth.
Blackie, who used to be an aircraft inspector, started smoking methamphetamine at age 25 after a friend introduced him to it. That one foolish mistake changed his life.
He quickly became addicted to meth, smoking $1,200 to $1,500 worth per week. He started dealing the drug with a friend, who was able to get it cheaply from other sources and was willing to give it to Blackie for free.
His life became “total chaos.” He lost contact with his family, because “when you’re high, you don’t want to be with people who aren’t high.” He lost his job and his house. He got into trouble with the law.
Blackie, now 40, has been in recovery for six years. But it took a threat from a judge to get him there. The judge told Blackie that if he ever saw him in court again, he would send him to prison for the rest of his life.
The Georgia Meth Project aims to prevent teenagers and young adults from following Blackie’s path by using advertisements, social media campaigns, and community action. The Georgia Meth Project is a chapter of The Meth Project, which includes eight other states. The campaign’s national slogan is “not even once,” to emphasize that using meth even once can snowball into addiction.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive synthetic stimulant that can cause health problems such as memory loss, aggression, psychotic behavior, heart damage, malnutrition and severe dental problems.
Jim Langford, executive director of the Georgia Meth Project, said meth abuse and dealing are problems throughout Georgia — in urban, suburban, and rural areas. There are meth busts almost daily in Georgia. In fact, Atlanta is now the leading East Coast distribution center for the drug.
Users are not the only victims
Meth abuse costs the state $1.3 billion annually. Perhaps the most troubling effect of meth abuse is the harm it has caused for Georgia’s children. According to the Georgia Meth Project, 43 percent of child endangerment cases involve meth; up to 70 percent of foster children have previously had caregivers who used or dealt meth; and 30 percent of homes where meth labs were discovered also had children in them.
Before beginning its prevention campaign, the Georgia Meth Project conducted surveys and focus groups. Alarmingly, it found that 28 percent of teenagers saw little or no risk in trying meth. Furthermore, 1 in 5 teens said they could get meth easily, and 58 percent said their parents had not talked to them about it.
The Georgia Meth Project has covered all of the bases to reach teens — television, radio, print, and online ads; documentaries; Ask MethProject.org and other social networks; and community outreach at schools and various events.
Many volunteers are relatives and friends of addicts, or are themselves former addicts, such as Blackie. He became involved after seeing some of the billboards about the drug that once had him in its grip.
“I’ve seen a lot of lives destroyed. I want to give back and help people back down from this road,” said Blackie, who lives in Georgia.
The television, print, and online ads feature disturbing images of meth addicts and their lives. The radio ads spotlight former meth addicts and their stories. The ads end with “What do you know about meth? Ask MethProject.org.”
Telling some very ugly truths
Langford said, “Real stories of meth use are really scary and much worse than anything we could invent. Ads speak to teens . . . [we] don’t want to sugarcoat . . . [the ads] give very honest statements of what their bodies, faces, lifestyles would look like on meth.”
The goal of the campaign was to “saturate the market so that 80 percent of teens would see one of the ads at least five times a week,” Langford said.
The ads worked.
Teens now realize there is a high risk involved in using meth and are more aware of the specific effects of the drug. Among teenagers, 78 percent say the ads made them less likely to try or use meth, and 90 percent would want siblings or friends who are thinking of trying meth to see or hear the ads.
The Georgia Meth Project has recently shifted its campaign emphasis to social media. And it has become a viral hit on its website and YouTube: In the first 60 days, 4 million Georgians downloaded at least one of the ads. The national and chapter-specific MethProject.org websites arm teens with information about meth and encourage people to speak out and take action.
Langford encourages Georgians to go to georgia.methproject.org to find out more information about the campaign and how to get involved, as well as to “like” its Facebook page to stay updated on the campaign’s initiatives.
When asked what he would say to teens about meth, Blackie said, “Don’t do it. It will change your life for the wrong reasons and in the wrong direction. Just don’t do it.”
Deesha Patel is a second-year Master of Public Health student at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. She is interested in health journalism and medical writing as well as epidemiologic research.