Georgia Meth Project urges local response
by Matt Shinall
Nov 13, 2012 | 1580 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In a bold, no-holds-bar approach to drug abuse prevention, The Georgia Meth Project has funded more than 48,000 T.V. and radio ads and more than 500 billboards across the state.

The first wave of advertising brought Georgia Meth Project Executive Director Jim Langford and Georgia Meth Project Chairman Lee Shaw to Bartow in 2010 seeking support before the project’s initial launch. Two years later, Langford returned with an update on the project’s accomplishments, a look at future goals and a charge for local communities to take part in the prevention of methamphetamine use.

“The program was highly successful in 2010, we did all the things we wanted to do and then we started moving heavily in the schools,” Langford said, speaking to how the project has evolved in its method of reaching at-risk teens. “What we’ve been able to do is see more than 40,000 students in classroom or small assembly settings for a very direct impact. We have a whole new program that we’re about to launch next year and we’ll be able to put a new lesson plan directly in the hands of teachers in health classes directly in the schools. There are 860,000 teens in Georgia, so the fact that we’ve seen 40,000 — that’s great, but we’ve got to figure out how to reach the other 820,000 teens.

“This is a serious problem that we need to face. No one needs to be in denial about it.”

Founded in 2005 by tech giant Tom Siebel, The Meth Project began in Montana after Siebel bought a ranch and noticed something was wrong with his ranch hands. At Monday’s meeting of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee, Langford described how Siebel uncovered a meth epidemic in Montana and vowed to do something about it.

“Montana had the fifth worst meth problem in the United States. All these little communities in Montana were devastated by methamphetamines,” Langford said. “Once you’re addicted to this thing, there’s only a 5 or 6 percent chance that you’re going to get off it and stay off. It’s that addictive. It’s five times more powerful than cocaine.

“So Tom Siebel said, ‘I bet I can figure out a way make this unattractive to younger people.’ Tom spent $30 million of his own money trying to figure this out, hiring Hollywood producers and directors, psychologists, psychiatrists, putting together focus groups, societologists, advertising specialists. ... Montana implemented the program and went from fifth-worst to 38th-worst in the country within two years. They cut first-time meth use by 65 percent in this target group [12 to 17 years].”

In its infancy, the program focused solely on advertising against the use of meth, with the motto “not even once.” Since then, the program has used startling images and top Hollywood filmmakers to air their campaigns in eight states. Now implementing new programs in addition to advertisements, The Meth Project is seeing positive results across the country.

In attendance at Monday’s meeting was Drug Court Judge Scott Smith. Echoing Langford’s sentiment about the meth problem in Georgia, Smith also shared a bit of good news from what he has seen from the bench.

“Bad news is, we’ve still got a serious meth problem,” Smith said. “We’ve got our share of meth addicts. Georgia still is a major meth hub, not just usage, but Atlanta has become a major area to store and disseminate meth up and down the Eastern Seaboard. But here, we’re actually starting to see a little bit of a decline. All I can tell you is what I can see in the courtroom. Meth is still our biggest problem, but we have seen some great strides being made.

“When I was a drug prosecutor here in 2005, I personally prosecuted, between Gordon County and Bartow County, 64 meth labs in one year. That’s a lot of meth labs. Now, we very rarely see a meth lab — I think we saw three last year.”

Smith cited the work done by The Georgia Meth Project, including ads and billboards seen in and around Bartow, for having a hand in the decline, in addition to a Georgia law requiring ephedrine, an ingredient used in the creation of meth, to be kept behind a pharmacist’s counter.

Langford also noted the decline of methamphetamine labs in his presentation, but said the supply loss is made up for in drug running out of Mexico and small batch methods adopted by local producers.

“Eighty percent of the drug is now coming from Mexico,” Langford said. “And they’re bringing it in in big, liquid quantities. They’re hiding it in the fuel tanks of trucks and in beer kegs and other containers like that. They set up in a home in metro Atlanta and reduce that liquid back down to the crystaline form.

“The largest bust in the United States happened in Gwinnett County. Atlanta is now the East Coast distribution hub for methamphetamine like Miami was for cocaine.”

The project is again entering a new phase of outreach focusing on Internet marketing through social media and online advertising directing viewers to the organization’s website at www.georgiamethproject.org or www.methproject.org. Since the online campaign launched nearly a year ago, the video advertisements on their website have received more than 18 million views in Georgia alone.

The Georgia Meth Project is now seeking community volunteers to take action in their community. Langford explained how The Georgia Meth Project could help serve as an outlet for volunteers or aid in the revival of a local organization, such as Bartow Against Meth.

“I encourage you to get another organization going like that or let us help you by kind of being one of your focal points for volunteers,” Langford said. “We can provide a framework under which you can do a lot of volunteer activities. There are two or three different things, school work is really critical to what we do, but some of the other things we do are community-based activities where you’re creating awareness of the meth problem and The Meth Project.

“Doing things at high school football games has worked well. We’ve got banners, we’ve got all kinds of professionally made booth things, like you would see at a trade show, that will grab their attention and get people to come over to where you are and we have materials you can hand out. It’s volunteer activities like that that raise awareness.”

For more information on The Georgia Meth Project, visit www.georgiamethproject.com, call 404-556-9787 or by email at info@georgiamethproject.org.