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The Many 'Faces of Meth'

The campaign that sent chills around the world, and helped Oregon kick the meth habit...

By Jackie Bennion

photos of Baxter

There's a bittersweet tinge to Deputy Bret King's work at Multnomah County Sheriff's Office in Oregon. In 2004, King created a drug awareness campaign using before and after mug shots of meth addicts coming through his custody; it became one of the most potent illustrations of meth's dangers. It also put Oregon's battle with the epidemic on the map.

"We did a lot of documentaries, did a lot of news stories to raise awareness, and I think that kind of painted the picture that we were the meth capital of the world," King told FRONTLINE.

Whether Oregon wanted the attention, King's "Faces of Meth" campaign brought home the drug's ravaging effects.

When FRONTLINE first interviewed King in 2006, he picked out one set of photos in particular to illustrate his point. They belonged to Theresa Baxter.

Shown above, the first shot (left) taken in June 2001, shows Baxter as a fairly young, attractive woman. The middle photo taken in 2004 at the height of the epidemic tells a different story. The last photo King took of Baxter (right) in 2009, the last time she was taken into custody, she was 47. Records show that between 1995 and 2009, she was in custody 44 times; most arrests were meth related.

King is not sure what's happened to Baxter. He remembers her being difficult and uncooperative in custody and then never showing up at the support center to get help. He says he's spoken with associates of hers fairly recently, who say they've seen her and she is using heroin now. But, King says, "That information is as reliable as the people I get it from."


Oregon largely solved its meth problem when it became the first state in 2006 to make pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in making meth, a prescription drug. Within months, the dynamics changed, police officials say. There were fewer people under the influence, fewer incarcerations, a nearly 20 percent drop in crime, and a drastic drop in the quality of meth on the street.

"When Beavis and Butthead were no longer producing the drug," King says, the Mexican cartels moved in. Motivated more by money than potency, they produced a weaker drug, he says, and flooded the market with it. "It was cheap and not nearly as addictive."

These days, King says he rarely sees meth addicts -- in fact, he's retired the "Faces of Meth" for new awareness programs employing the mug shots of heroin, cocaine, meth and alcohol abusers. "I am trying to illustrate it's all bad for you," he says.

But King won't forget the campaign's impact. "I traveled all over the country with "Faces of Meth," and there hasn't been a single time where someone has not approached me and said, 'You know, we're the meth capital,' because their perception is that they have got it worse than anyone else."


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posted may. 17, 2011

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