Nearly six months after announcing a campaign to get the word out about methamphetamine, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s meth message is apparently getting through.
The "End Meth Now" public awareness campaign, which is intentionally devoid of the heavy scare tactics used in Montana and in a campaign about to begin in Arizona, is making a big impression: more than 43 million message "hits" tracked through four television stations, eight metro radio stations, 21 rural radio stations, 16 newspapers and magazines and 296 billboards.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is the 19,054 people who have visited the www.endmethnow.org Web site since the late September unveiling of the campaign, Lisa-Michelle Church, executive director of the state Department of Human Services, told the Deseret Morning News Editorial Board on Tuesday.
"As director of the department in the state where meth use cuts across every one of my divisions, it's an important indicator that the public awareness and public discussion of its use and more importantly that there is help and treatment for users is actually taking place," Church said.
Although a new statewide substance abuse report indicates methamphetamine use is waning a bit, it remains the most common illicit drug in Utah, and the drug of choice among young women.
Having a campaign that focused on its most common users was controversial in development, said Church, who also co-chaired a special statewide task force that looked at the scope of usage and most effective methods of getting legislative and general public support to address what she and other public health and law enforcement agencies characterize as a drug abuse problem that has become an epidemic.
Women like Alisha Berry, a single mom and former user who fully endorsed the campaign because it involves real people who are over the fence in neighborhoods, not down-and-out gawker types on the street.
Fear-mongering campaigns used elsewhere just keep the us-and-them attitudes going in the public, she said. "Plus it reinforces the attitude out there and among the users that there's no hope for anyone who is using it. The prospect of hope after meth is a message that was needed and should be repeated as often as possible.
"Although some will deny it, users don't need to hear about the physical and emotional damage that they know all too well themselves," Berry said. "What people need to know is where they can go for immediate help" during one of the hundreds of times a user decides she or he has had enough.
During one of those episodes, when she was on the street and wanting out, someone driving by recognized her condition and took her to detox and ultimately recovery.
"Recovery kind of stumbled into me," she said. "If I had known about any of the places for treatment I've learned about since that day, I would have got my life back together a lot sooner. I just didn't think there was anyone out there who cared."
Isolation and shame, self talk that they don't deserve help, and that no help is out there anyway are the key myths of users the campaign is designed to dispel, said Bill Cox, past president of the Utah Association of Counties and meth task force co-chairman.
Counties are the front lines of local services, Cox said, noting that from jails to treatment programs most county methods of dealing with their meth problem "and every county has one" are built backward for what reality is.
Criminalization and jail instead of treatment really don't address the issue head-on, he said.
This is a brain-altering substance that affects directly the capacity of coherent decision-making in the user, Church said, noting that it can create aggravating situations for family members who see a behavior transition lost on the user.But that's no reason to think people are lost to it, Cox said. "What we're trying to encourage is treatment and prevention. And we need to build hope more than anything. If you are a user or are a family member of one, there are resources to help."