Monday, August 1, 2011

A new anti-drug campaign that shows disturbing before and after photos of drug users’ faces, may succeed where others have failed, grabbing teens’ attentions by appealing to their vanity. The pairs of mug shots, which graphically display the damage drugs can do to the face, were collected by the sheriff’s office in Multnomah County, Ore.

The photos are part of a 48-minute documentary called “From Drugs to Mugs,” created by Deputy Bret King. King hopes that the documentary, which is available on a DVD along with a CD of mug shots, will help scare kids straight by showing them concrete evidence of damage that can occur within months from using meth, heroin or cocaine.

The most stunning feature of the photos is how quickly the face is damaged. Faces that were normal, even attractive, metamorphose over years, and sometimes just months, into gaunt, pitted, even toothless wrecks.

A. Thomas McLellan, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Solutions at the University of Pennsylvania, explains, “Meth can cause small blood vessels around the face to constrict. So consequently, the gums shrink as they do in old age. The teeth that remain can become discolored and black.”

“Both meth and heroin are often cut with sugar”, McLellan explains. “And you get acne from oily or sweet things, so if you’re injecting the sugar into your veins it’s even more direct,” he adds.

The gaunt look on many of the addicts can be the result of poor nutrition and lack of sleep, says Dr. Larissa Mooney, an addiction psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.

As for the facial sores: Sometimes meth users will hallucinate and get the sensation that there are bugs crawling under their skin, Mooney says. Trying to get relief, they’ll sometimes pick at their skin until there are open sores.

Experts can’t say whether the program will work, but Mooney and McLellan are hopeful.

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