Shocking pictures of meth users not the key to deterrence, psychologist says

Dramatic pictures of drug users meant to educate

CLEVELAND - There is no denying, the pictures are disturbing. They depict the physical changes in people over time during their use of methamphetamine, or meth as it's known on the street.

The project, "Faces of Meth" , along with the more recent "From Drugs to Mugs" is the work of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office . It started as one deputy's effort to educate children about the dangers of doing drugs. He identified criminal histories, conducted interviews and shared these stories in hopes the honesty behind them would convince young people never to try drugs like meth in the first place.

While the project's website highlights some of the accolades students and teachers have shared about the project, not everyone is convinced this is the path to take to deter drug use in children.

"There is some data that suggests that it could actually have the opposite effect," said Felipe Amunategui, Ph.D. , a child psychologist at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital.

"It may have an unintended desensitizing effect."

While Dr. Amunategui gives a lot of credit to the people who continue to work on this project and the meth users who agree to participate, he doesn't feel parents and educators should use it as a means of drug prevention for children. He does feel, however, the images would be very useful to medical and psychology students to help demonstrate the physical effects of meth use.

He also feels the images might be useful in helping patients in already in recovery from relapsing.

"It doesn't take much until your body starts showing outward signs of wear and that's what you see in these images," he said.

A significant part of Dr. Amunategui's practice is treating young patients for substance abuse. He maintains that the most efficient way to prevent, or at least delay a child's first use of drugs, is by making sure he or she is well-supervised, healthy, connected to the community, achieving and involved in extra-curricular activites.

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office makes the images available to anyone who would like to use them for educational purposes only. You can download them from the office's website for free: http://www.facesofmeth.us/main.htm.

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