ST. LOUIS — Josh Palmer's story has played out countless times here in the heart of meth country. Introduced to methamphetamine as a teenager, he soon became addicted, couldn't keep a job, lost his house, lost his family.
Today, he's turned his life around, so much that he's part of a national anti-meth marketing campaign that was launched Tuesday in St. Louis.
"At one time in my life I thought everybody was doing dope because everybody I knew was," Palmer, 32, said after a news conference at St. Louis City Hall. "I found out there was another world out there. And I like it a lot better."
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, was on hand Tuesday to launch the $9 million ad campaign. Missouri is among the states worst-affected by methamphetamine addiction and has ranked first in the nation for years in meth lab busts and seizures. Wyoming, Arkansas and Nevada were the top three states as far as per capita usage of meth among people ages 18-25 in a 2007 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The new campaign focuses on a message of hope — that meth addiction can be overcome.
The ad blitz runs through November and will be run in newspapers and online, as well as on TV, radio, billboards and even gas pumps. It focuses on the 16 states with the worst meth problems — Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and Nebraska in the Midwest and Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico in the West. Anti-meth radio and Web ads will run nationally.
"Despite the overall decline in meth usage across the country, we still have work to do," Kerlikowske said. "This drug leaves a path of destruction that affects individuals, families and entire communities."
The ads focus on prevention and provide information to meth users and their families seeking recovery services. They target people ages 18-34, the age group most likely to use the drug.
"Meth is literally stealing the lives of people across the state, specifically young people," Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said.
Kerlikowske's office cited a 2007 survey that found that more than 5 percent of Americans age 12 or older had tried meth at least once, and that an estimated 529,000 Americans had used meth in the past month.
Palmer, of Malden, kicked his habit about five years ago, thanks in large part to a treatment program mandated through the Dunklin County Drug Court. He now works as a drug counselor at a treatment facility.
Palmer said he first used marijuana and drank beer at age 13. He tried meth at 17 and quickly became addicted to the point where he became a maker as well as a user.
While high on the drug, nothing else mattered, he said. Though he lived just down the road from his mother, who was dying of cancer, the only time he saw her during the final three months of her life was when he raced home from a drug deal to be at her death bed.
He lost several jobs because of his drug use, then lost his young children when the state removed them because both Palmer and his wife were on meth. The kids were eventually returned, but only after Palmer hit bottom and sought help.
"I was just exhausted and saw that I lost everything," Palmer said. "I realized there had to be a better way."
Now, he wants others addicted to meth to understand that, too. He is featured in a full-page ad in several metro daily newspapers that ran Tuesday, including both major papers in the Twin Cities and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It reads, in part, "People can — and do — recover from meth addiction."