Dr. Ablow: ‘Faces of Drug Arrests’ may not face real truth about drug abuse

The new anti-drug campaign, “More Than Meth: Faces of Drug Arrests,” showcases the devolving appearance of those arrested multiple times for drug-related offenses. Sponsored by Rehabs.com, the campaign aims to startle people into recognizing the devastating effects of drug addiction on people who once looked healthy (in their first mug shots), as they change into people who look worn and ill and, frankly, unattractive (with facial lesions, etc.)

The campaign may have some impact, because people fear physical decline, sometimes more than they fear psychological decline. No one wants to look like any of the “after” pictures in the “Faces of Drug Arrests” campaign.

My problem with the campaign is only this: Most of the addicts I treat for cocaine dependence and oxycodone dependence and marijuana dependence and alcohol dependence don’t look anything like the folks in these mug shots. They look like athletes, attorneys, doctors, construction workers and even models—because they are. Their marriages and careers have started unraveling while their faces look pretty darn good. And most of them have never been arrested and never will be.

For this reason, I worry a little bit that the “Faces of Drug Arrests” could actually have an unanticipated effect: It could convince people who look at the mug shots that since they aren’t anything like the addicts pictured, they may just be invulnerable to the negative effects of substances. But they are not.

I didn’t care much for the “This is Your Brain; This is Your Brain on Drugs” campaign, which showed an egg frying in a pan, because most folks don’t feel like their brains are bubbling on a skillet when they snort cocaine or shoot heroin. And I am not a big fan of the “Faces” campaign, either.

I would like to see someone design an ad campaign that shows a nice pair of shoes and three grams of cocaine and asks whether it's really worth trading the shoes for the little pile of drugs. Because most cocaine addicts I know actually worry about the amount of money they are spending on their drugs, more than anything else.

I’d like to see a commercial in which someone is using laxatives or sitting on a toilet for a long time because their oxycodone has made them so constipated. Opiate users really do object to that side effect.

I’d like to see a commercial in which a young woman experiences paranoia while smoking marijuana, because that is one downside to marijuana use that users really do remember.

And I’d like to see a commercial in which a man drinks alcohol and does a few lines of cocaine and can’t perform sexually.  That side effect bothers drug abusers a lot.

The truth always wins, in advertising, as in psychiatry, as in all of life.  And I just don’t know if “Faces of Drug Arrests” tells the truth about a large enough number of drug users.

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