For the past two years, Iowa state officials have had to rely on a 20-foot-long trailer to get the word out about methamphetamine. The drug isn’t covered in depth by existing drug-abuse-prevention curricula, they say, and is too big a problem in the state to go unaddressed. So officials have depended on the Iowa National Guard to help them haul a mobile methamphetamine exhibit from one town to another.
“We’ve put a lot of miles on that trailer,” says Dale Woolery, the associate coordinator of the Iowa Governor’s Alliance on Substance Abuse.
But in the coming months, Iowa will start conveying its anti-meth message through more high-tech means. The governor’s alliance is working with the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, an agency set up by the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1996, to put together a methamphetamine education program for 5th and 6th graders. The series, provided on CD-ROM, is scheduled to be launched statewide in the fall. Later, it will be offered to schools throughout the six states the agency serves. “We’ve developed it based on an absolute need for it because there wasn’t anything else available,” says David Barton, the executive director of the Midwest HIDTA, which is based in Kansas City, Mo.
The need for such a program in this largely rural region has perhaps never been clearer. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, a research organization based at Columbia University, recently released a report detailing how teenagers in rural areas are using some types of drugs at much higher rates than their peers in big cities.
Specifically, the study found, 8th graders living in rural America are more than twice as likely to use amphetamines, including methamphetamine, than 8th graders in cities. Amphetamine use by rural teenagers in the 10th and 12th grades also exceeded that of their urban counterparts.Researchers say they can’t pinpoint the reasons for higher methamphetamine use among rural teenagers, other than to note that the drug is much more widely available in those areas than ever before.
“Anecdotally, there’s also the age-old cry that there’s nothing to do in rural areas,” says Susan E. Foster, the vice president and director of policy research for the center at Columbia.
Foster also observes that entertainment glamorizing substance abuse often reaches teenagers through the Internet, television, movies, and popular music—mediums that know no geographic boundaries.
The new anti-meth curriculum is designed to give students reasons to discount such messages.
Besides covering the behavioral and coping skills students need to resist drugs, the five-part series shows through creative animation how meth affects the body, says U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kathryn Fulkerson, the drug-demand-reduction coordinator for the Midwest HIDTA. In one segment, an animated show called “Ann Anatomy” describes how the drug can trigger hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure, as well as an itchy feeling under the skin. At one point, a pimple comes on to the screen and explodes—an allusion to the drug’s tendency to cause acne.
The program also describes how students can identify clandestine meth labs, and how the brain chemical dopamine can be depleted by meth use—a condition that ultimately makes it harder for long-term users to feel pleasure.
“There are some studies that indicate that meth can create permanent brain damage,” Fulkerson says. “With the aid of a facilitator, 5th and 6th graders should be able to develop a good understanding of this.”
—Jessica L. Sandham
A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2000 edition of Education Week as Meth 101: Hitting the Heartland