SAMHSA Under Fire For "Meth Monster" PSA

By Kelly Burch 09/26/19

While spreading awareness is key, people in the health industry say that the video's approach is all wrong.

still from meth monster PSA
Photo via YouTube

With methamphetamine addiction and overdose on the rise, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is trying to raise awareness about the risks of meth use, but is coming under fire for a new PSA the agency released this week. 

Stereotypes & Stigma

As reported by Filter magazine, in the PSA, a man is shown in a boxing ring battling a hideous “meth monster.” In the first round, the man is knocked down, but springs back up. Next, the monster uses pliers to pull out his teeth, a reference to the “meth mouth” stereotype.

“There goes the teeth,” a sports commentator narrating the video says. “That’s gotta hurt.”

In the third round, the man is captured by the monster. “He doesn’t seem to be able to get away. He’s trapped. Meth is stealing his soul,” the commentator exclaims. 

The commercial ends by urging people to get more information or seek help by visiting or calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357). While awareness is key, people in the health industry say that the approach in the video is all wrong.

Dr. Sarah Wakeman, an addiction medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, took to Twitter to express her concern. 

“Is this a joke?” she wrote. “This makes the old fried egg commercials look mild. ‘Meth will steal your soul’- really @samhsagov ?? How about some fact based, non stigmatizing public health approaches instead of this…”

Bill Kinkle, co-host of the Health Professionals in Recovery podcast, wrote on Twitter that PSAs show the policy mistakes that can prevent people from getting help. 

“Everything you need to know about how War on Drugs propaganda operates is in this video. Personifying a drug as an evil monster, filling you with intense fear, portraying drug use always as a boxing match, tons of misinformation and lies, then finishing with ‘get the facts,’” he wrote. He followed up with a simple tweet: “Not helpful.”

SAMHSA’s web page dedicated to meth information does relay helpful and concerning facts. For example, the agency reports that meth use among adults 26 and older increased 43% between 2017 and 2018. 

Still, Samatha Arsenault of the advocacy group Shatterproof said PSAs like this one waste resources that could be better spent on getting people with meth addiction real help.  

“I was appalled by this video,” she wrote. “Sad to see that after knowing for so long that scare tactics not only don't work but are damaging to ppl impacted by SUD that resources were used to put this together.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.