Looking Meth in the Face

image of mans face before and after meth useAside from the mental and social damage caused by methamphetamine abuse, the physical effects are well-documented and often devastating. Rotted teeth (“meth mouth”), open sores, and drastic weight loss are common among meth users and, in rural California, Sheriff Tom Allman sees these symptoms all too often. At the Mendocino County Jail, a substantial portion of the inmates are locked up because of meth-related crimes: possession, distribution, burglary, domestic violence, and theft. The sheriff and his deputies are daily witnesses to the damage caused by Mendocino citizens coming into contact with the toxic but common chemicals associated with meth production—cough medication, hydrochloric acid, iodine, and even brake fluid and drain cleaner.

Because of the drug’s highly addictive nature, Sheriff Allman decided to target the 14–20 year-old age group, with the goal of preventing first time use. Acknowledging that many of the teen drug prevention techniques of the past 20 years have been unsuccessful, he felt that a lot of the anti-drug education programs were ineffective because the messaging failed to resonate with teens. As a father of two teenagers, Sheriff Allman has reason to know that many young people care about their personal appearance and decided to focus his prevention strategies on the damage done to a meth users’ face.

image of mans face before and after meth useBy approaching and partnering with a California-based software developer, Abalone LLC, the Mendocino County Sherriff’s Office has developed an innovative new campaign to help create awareness about the negative effects of methamphetamine abuse. In a classroom setting, deputies take 3D pictures of youth with the new Face2Face system and digitally alter the images to simulate the effects of methamphetamine abuse. The results demonstrate, in an immediate and visceral way, what a person will look like after six months, a year, and three years of meth use. A once healthy face transforms into the worn and grotesque image often associated with meth.

Sheriff Allman is realistic about the effectiveness of scare tactics in preventing drug use. As he told NPR during a recent interview, “Our intent was not to use scare tactics on this, because scare tactics don’t work.” However, in his opinion, this new campaign—which has been adopted by other law enforcement agencies around the country, as well as by the DEA, National Guard, Air Force, and Marines—is just one more tool to help educate young people about the devastating effects of methamphetamine abuse.

Zoe Mentel
Policy Analyst
The COPS Office


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