Darren Aronofsky, the Oscar-nominated director behind "Black Swan" and "Requiem for a Dream," has taken his famously dark style to the small screen in four 30-second ads guaranteed to make teens think twice about using methamphetamine.
The ads, released Tuesday as part of the Meth Project's latest multimedia awareness campaign, depict the scary scenes of meth addiction; from desperation to loss of control to attempted suicide.
"We wanted to show the stark reality of methamphetamine use," said Nitsa Zuppas, executive director of the Siebel Foundation, which funds the Meth Project. "We know that if teens understand the risks, usage will decline."
This is the second time Aronofsky has lent his vision and star power to the campaign. In 2008, he directed a series of ads showing how meth affects users and their loved ones.
"Every year we have this huge list of people who want to do this work," said Zuppas. "They all care so deeply and passionately about the work, and you can see it in the result."
Other Hollywood superstars who have teamed with the Project include Wally Pfister, director of photography for "The Dark Knight" and "Inception," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who directed "Babel" and "21 Grams," and Tony Kaye, who directed "American History X."
Since the Meth Project launched in 2006, meth use has declined 65 percent in Arizona, 63 percent in Montana and 52 percent in Idaho -- decreases largely credited to the Project's hard-hitting TV and radio ads.
This year, the campaign spread to the digital world with an interactive website.
"We knew we needed to provide a definitive source of information about the risks of meth use for teens," said Zuppas.
To transform the research on meth into messages teens can understand and share, the Project partnered with experts from various national agencies, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They also interviewed hundreds of meth users.
The website is designed to get teens asking questions before they try meth, questions like, "What is meth mouth?" and "What are crank bugs?" On the "Body by meth" page, users can use tweezers to dissect meth's harmful, even fatal health effects.
"We knew we needed to leverage digital and social media to engage teens in a radical new way," said Zuppas. "MethProject.org provides the means to understand the risks of meth and really influence others."
Methamphetamine is one of the most addictive drugs of abuse, according to Dr. Stephen Ross, clinical director of the NYU Langone Center of Excellence on Addiction.
"One in four people who try meth become addicted," said Ross. "It's one of the most addictive drugs, and it's also one of the most damaging."
Meth can cause heart attacks, seizures, strokes and kidney failure. It also impairs the immune system.
"When you see pictures of meth users over time it's very dramatic," said Ross. "They look like they have cancer -- they're gaunt, they look like they've aged 20 years."
Meth can also have psychiatric effects, triggering hallucinations, delusions and violence.
"Meth is linked to a lot of violence, a lot of criminality," said Ross. "In addition to rapidly destroying an individual, it can rapidly destroy a community."
Ross said the Meth Project has the potential to dissuade teens from trying meth.
"There's a very close link between the perception of harm and use of the drug," he said. "The average teen knows crack is bad and IV heroin is bad. Many of them also know that cigarettes are bad. A public health message that conveys the dangers of drug is most certainly effective."
But anti-drug campaigns aimed at teens are tricky, Ross said, recalling the fried egg anti-drug ads of the '80s.
"Teens laughed at that," said Ross. "They thought it was silly,"
Unlike the fried egg, Aronofsky's Meth Project ads pack a haunting message.
"We want teens to know that if they try meth thinking it's no big deal," said Zuppas, "it's a decision that could literally ruin their lives."
- Darren Aronofsky