An independent review published in the December issue of Prevention Science uses data compiled by the Montana Meth Project to question the sensational campaign’s effectiveness among teens.
The review’s author, David Erceg-Hurn, who is currently completing his doctorate in clinical psychology in Australia, concludes that multiple negative outcomes make the project inappropriate for public funding.
Billionaire Tom Seibel launched the Montana Meth Project with his own money in 2005, but now the campaign—which includes graphic advertisements depicting the dangers of methamphetamine use—receives millions in public funding. Other states have also adopted similar anti-meth strategies.
Specifically, Erceg-Hurn points out that following six months of exposure to the ads, three times as many teenagers reported that using meth is not a risky behavior and teenagers were four times more likely to strongly approve of meth use. Erceg-Hurn, who also cites 2006 reporting by the Independent in his review, mostly questions how the project claims success based on its own data.
“I think he presented project survey findings out of context and without any real data to back up his accusations,” says Peg Shea, the project’s executive director. “I also think his limited analysis and statements are greatly outnumbered by the positive changes in attitudes we see in the state of Montana.”
The review also came under fire from Geoff Feinberg, vice president at GFK Roper Public Affairs & Media, the New York firm hired by the Montana Meth Project to conduct its research studies. Feinberg called Erceg-Hurn’s findings “disappointing” and “an unfair assessment.”
“My initial reaction was that it didn’t show a complete picture of the research we had conducted on behalf of the Meth Project,” says Feinberg. “I’m not disputing his numbers—the numbers come from our own report. But he presented just a few findings out of many findings.”
For example, Feinberg points out that the fourfold increase in teens approving of meth use is technically accurate, but only reflects a jump from 1 to 4 percent.
“Many of the specific numbers discussed in my review have previously been highlighted by the Meth Project in their own press releases or on their website,” wrote Erceg-Hurn in an e-mail to the Independent. “The difference is that I showed how the Meth Project turned unremarkable or unflattering findings into apparent successes.”