Yet Another Uncritical Look at the Montana Meth Project

It’s excellent news that the Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows a decline in the use of meth in Montana. What’s less outstanding is the coverage that the Billings Gazette (and presumably other Lee Newspapers) chose to give the story:

The 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national survey designed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administered to students in grades eight, 10 and 12, shows that 3.1 percent of Montana students reported having used meth at least once during their lives.

That is down from 4.6 percent in 2007 and 8.3 percent in 2005.

Montana Meth Project Chairman Mike Gulledge, publisher of The Billings Gazette, said the 63 percent drop in teen meth use since 2005, the year the Meth Project started, is further evidence that the multimillion-dollar ad campaign is having an effect in the state.

"The program has exceeded all expectations, and I commend the people of the state of Montana for making it possible," he said.

Once again, the possibility that something other than the Montana Meth Proect could be responsible for the decline was ignored and the Gazette chose to run another press release, rather than a news story. There’s one critical fact that the story leaves out: meth use is declining rapidly all over the country, even in states that do not have the Montana Meth Project running ads. From the results of the 2007 YBS:


Correlation is not causation. The fact that meth use declined while the Montana Meth Project was running ads certainly doesn’t prove that the MMP caused that decline. In fact, given the national trend downward, it seems much more likely that something else (like increased law enforcement effort and federal law) is much more deserving of the credit.

While the Gazette did at least mention that Mike Gulledge is the publisher of the paper this time, it didn’t stop “Gazette Staff” from acting like a cheerleader, rather than a reporter.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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