Smile Politely

Getting Dirty with Meth Ads

You’ve likely noticed images of meth addicts making their way back into local media.

With Sen. Dick Durbin securing $200,000 in government funds for “Wave 2” of the Illinois Meth Project campaign, Central Illinois will continue to witness advertised displays of meth use over the next few months. For those who have yet to experience a first-hand view of this campaign, the imagery in these ads is on par with the most shocking of horror flicks — easily rated ‘R’ if the standard applied.

In one ad, on screen, a scared, bloody and sickly looking teen gasps for life while curled in the fetal position in an empty bath tub. A voice recounts stories of a life spun out of control. Beyond focusing on the downfalls of addiction itself, many of these ads elude to the criminal and sexual violence that comes with a Meth-influenced lifestyle. Though these ads are believed by many to be the necessary means to combat a rampant problem in downstate Illinois, it seems these ads are allowed to overstep a few standards in public broadcasting.

First used in Montana during 2005, this campaign has been credited with drastically decreasing Meth use in that state: a 45% decrease in teen Meth use, a 72% decrease in adult Meth use and a 62% decrease in Meth-related crime, according to The destruction caused by widespread Meth addiction has been a highly publicized problem, finding frequent coverage through print and televised media outlets nationwide. While there’s little doubt that our neighbors addicted to Meth need, and deserve, the slap in the face that these ads are intended to deliver, I have to ask, what about the rest of us? Maybe we have to get dirty to fight a dirty fight? 

“You’ve got to hit these kids between the eyes because they think they’re invincible. You’ve got to show them what this drug will do to them.”

–Greg Sullivan, Executive Director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association

“All I can say to you is thank you … thank you so much. … I am 22, 3 years and 7 months sober. I did Meth from the time I was 14 till very shortly before my 19th b-day … it ate part of my soul … if you can stop that for someone else … just thank you.”


Initially, I was upset to see that this disturbing imagery was able to find its way into the media. Like our Sheriffs’ Director warned, it hit me between the eyes; and nobody likes to get hit.

But compare this to the Ad Council’s billboard campaign against drunk driving, which displays two identical pictures of crash scenes, with “drunk driving” and “buzzed driving” captions under each. Although their approach is similar, it demonstrates that when you tone down the graphic content, the seriousness of the message can be lost. Even the somber billboards from years past showing the innocent victims of drunk driving didn’t demand your attention nearly like those from the Meth Project.

I remain disgusted with these ads, not from a censorship standpoint, but because of the deliberate nausea they are intended to induce. And yet, perhaps it is a necessary evil to raise public awareness about one of the most destructive problems in our area. Like it or not, our public officials decided that images like the one above will be part of our lives. Let’s hope it’s worthwhile.

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