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From Drugs to Mugs 1

Courtesy of Multnomah County Sheriff's Office

"From Drugs to Mugs" aims to show students how young people who have become addicted to drugs can transform.

Graphic photos of drug addicts won’t stop teens from trying -- experts

by Gina Harkins
March 02, 2011

From Drugs to Mugs 2

Courtesy of Multnomah County Sheriff's Office

From Drugs to Mugs 3

Courtesy of Multnomah County Sheriff's Office

A new anti-drug campaign, aimed at teens, showing grisly before and after photos of young people who have become addicted to hardcore drugs might not be enough to curb teen drug use.

In Oregon, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office  released a recent follow-up to its 2004 documentary titled “Faces of Meth” showing how methamphetamine addicts deteriorated over time. Their website says the new documentary, “From Drugs to Mugs,” which also spotlights heroin and other drugs, is specifically designed for classroom use and available on DVD.

But teens might not respond to this type of program, local experts said.

Peter Palanca, a senior lecturer on addiction studies at Governors State University in University Park, said programs like “From Drugs to Mugs” don’t effectively reach the masses. Palanca is executive vice president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities.

“I tend not to be overly hopeful about pictures of before and after,” Palanca said. “Kids don’t perceive themselves as becoming addicted. They think ‘I can use, I’d be careful about it and smart about it and won’t let it get to that point.’”

Special Agent Witt, who preferred not to use his first name, is with Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group. He said photos could be a useful deterrent, but kids are more influenced by their friends than anything else.

“You could tell a kid till you’re blue in the face what drugs can do to you,” Witt said. “But ultimately, they’re influenced by their peers.”

Jeanna Beerbower teaches health classes to high school sophomores at Grayslake Central High School. She said she has used tools similar to the “From Drugs to Mugs” photos in class.

“Scare tactics don’t work with teenagers,” Beerbower said. “I think before and after photos can be a good teaching method, but only in addition to other things we do.”

Beerbower said teaching teens how to withstand peer pressure is what can help them make good decisions when they’re faced with difficult situations. She said teens don’t even look at it as peer pressure as much as a social thing.

“The first time kids drink or try a drug, they usually always do it with other people,” Beerbower said. “Not many students drink alone for the first time. Most kids don’t even like the taste of alcohol, but they’re so curious.”

And curiosity is something John Majer, consultant for DePaul University’s Center for Community Research and psychology professor at Truman College, said is going to get the best of teens.

“Adolescence is a time of identity and experimentation and testing the boundaries,” Majer said.

Majer said drug programs can be better focused.

“Scaring people doesn’t work,” Majer said. “I think it needs to be an honest discussion about curiosity and experimentation. We need to educate kids on how to treat experimentation and teach them how to prevent it from getting worse.”

Because peer influence is so strong, Palanca said having high school students showing younger students the before and after photos could be effective.

“Good things happen when high-school-aged kids present things to junior high kids,” Palanca said.

Beerbower agreed. 

“Even just having them get into groups and have them talk about something they’re learning can be better than hearing it from me,” she said.

All of the experts agreed that a small group of kids might benefit from viewing the before and after photos.

“Some of [the] kids that need an excuse to not do something will say, ‘There’s no way I want to end up looking like that dude,’” Palanca said. But he said this won’t be the case for the majority of teens.