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Teens get glimpse of their appearance after years of meth use

By Sandy Sand     Jan 6, 2010 in Lifestyle
Teens are getting a unique experience of seeing what they will look like after years of drug use and abuse through the magic of a computer program.
Shock is usually the word used by teens in Imperial, Missouri, after a computer generated program depicts them as they’d look after years of using methamphetamines.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Larry Michaels said he’s been trying for years to get students’ attention and get through to them on the dangers of drug and alcohol use, but nothing has had the sobering effect of the newly instituted Face2Face computer generated program.
After several Windsor High School students volunteered to have their photos taken and viewed their digitally altered faces of the future that showed them what they‘d look like after six month, one year and three years, Michaels said:
"I've never seen the look of shock on their faces like I have with this. They can actually see themselves; there's no imagining there."
The test run of the Face2Face program, which mimics the physical effect of meth use and known to cause skin lesions, facial sagging and tooth decay, took place in one of the school’s health classes, open to freshmen through seniors.
The initial response of giggles and laughter quickly gave rise to expressions of horror at the realization of the real implications of drug use began to sink in.
"Why would anyone do that?" exclaimed one student and "Oh, my God, that's horrible" was uttered by another.
Senior Jessica Ackermann, 17, said that her face, altered to simulate three years of meth abuse, resembled a zombie from Michael Jackson's music video "Thriller."
The six-month simulation revealed Ackermann’s fair skin had turned even more pale; pronounced wrinkles on her forehead; and dark circles that had formed under her eyes.
The three-year simulation was a real shocker, showing her face covered with lesions, her eyes bulging and her cheeks sunken and sagging.
Ackermann summed up the program most succinctly when she said:
…it was unlike any anti-drug presentation she had ever experienced.
She added:
"Other ones tell you about it; this one actually shows you what you would look like. If you show this to someone who does meth, it would change their mind if they really cared about themselves."
Word spread quickly about Face2Face and within hours after the trial run other teachers were contacting Michaels about using the program in their classes.
A pleased Michaels said:
"They're definitely talking about it.”
Fear tactics don’t work
Although Dennis Embry, a prevention scientists and advocate said that research has found that fear-based tactics, such as the Montana Meth Project, don't prevent high-risk teens from deviant behavior, he is the ultimate skeptic on the Face2Face program.
In the Montana Meth Project the advertising campaign used unsavory images of teens experiencing the consequences of meth use that included diminishing health, sinking into adverse living conditions, amphetamine psychosis, moral compromise and regret.
Research has shown, Embry said, that those tactics can reinforce the thrill risk-taking teens are seeking.
But, on a skeptical note, he said the positive response to the Face2Face program most likely comes from teenagers who probably wouldn't be temptation to use drugs.
Reinforcing his negative philosophy he said that the idea of using a teen's own image may have some value, because it could cause affect their choice of drugs.
Taking a positive approach is Sheriff Oliver “Glenn” Boyer, who learned about the Face2Face program last October. He contacted the Jefferson County Partners Responsible for Increasing Drug Education (P.R.I.D.E.), and enlisted their cooperation in a joint venture to try the program.
Pride paid for the $3,000 worth of software.
Cindy Pharis, P.R.I.D.E. programs coordinator, is no stranger to the Face2Face technique. She has been taking pictures of students, morphing them into meth addicts and showing them on projector screens.
She said she didn’t bother to make lecturing part of her presentations, because the images had their own power and spoke for themselves. Pharis said it was eye-opening to see how quiet the students were while viewing their pictures.
"It's not overblown," Pharis said. "It's putting reality in their face."
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