You and Johnny Appleseed

By John Latta
Executive Editor
[email protected]

You can deliver a gift to people in need across the country. Some of them may be your fellow drivers.

Simply carry a message and deliver it in conversation, when and where you choose. The message comes from the Montana Meth Project, and it’s saving people from descending into the living and dying hell that is meth addiction. No one will be surprised you were shaken by what you saw and heard. But your message will get passed on. Again and again.

The messages (there are a number of them) are presented in some of the most powerful advertisements you’ll ever see. Their theme is “Just Once,” because that’s all it takes. Meth plunges its claws into your soul the very first time you “try” it. It can turn its victims into people even their closest relatives and friends won’t recognize, so hollow and so damned that even your instinct to help is damaged by what you see before you. And the trucking industry has its share of victims.

You can see the ads online at I want you to see them yourself and decide whether you want to carry their message. Assess the supporting data, because much of it comes from the meth project itself. (But there is also White House and other official endorsement.)

I don’t like superlatives – we throw them around too casually. But if evil can be used to describe anything, it’s meth. There are drugs in the trucking industry, we know that, and meth is a leader. The most recent evidence I could find comes from the Journal of Forensic Science in May 2002. It’s a study compiled by Washington State Toxicology Laboratory at the University of Washington, and it says, “An enforcement emphasis project, ‘Operation Trucker Check,’ was established in order to determine the extent to which commercial tractor-trailer drivers were operating their vehicles while impaired by drugs.

“A total of 1,079 drivers and their vehicles were assessed for driver and equipment violations, and drivers additionally underwent preliminary field sobriety tests conducted by drug recognition expert (DRE) officers. Anonymous urine specimens for drug analysis were requested, and 822 urine specimens were obtained in total. Compliance with the drug-testing portion was voluntary, and there was a 19 percent refusal rate. Overall, 21 percent of the urine specimens tested positive for either illicit, prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs, and 7 percent tested positive for more than one drug. Excluding caffeine and nicotine, the largest number of positive findings (9.5%) were for CNS stimulants, such as methamphetamine, amphetamine, phentermine, ephedrine/pseudoephedrine and cocaine.”

If anyone’s counting, marijuana came in second and alcohol third. Older studies have found drug use in the industry. A 1988 survey at a Tennessee weigh station on I-40 is one, and 1990 and 1993 studies on drugs and fatally injured truckers also found drug use. These data don’t prove a meth or drug problem in this industry. Far from it. But they indicate that some truckers are at risk. And if a driver “tries” meth, he or she may have stepped out onto a slope so steep there’s only a tiny chance of clawing back. You might be the help that driver needs.

These messages are effective. In September 2005, Montana ranked No. 5 in the nation for meth use; half of its jail inmates were there because of meth and half of foster-care admissions were meth-related. Two years later, after the Montana Meth Project campaign (using these ads), Montana ranked No. 39 in the nation for meth abuse, adult meth use had dropped by as much as 70 percent, teen meth use had dropped by 45 percent and there had been a 53-percent drop in meth-related crime.

In 2006 the White House National Drug Control Policy Director, John Walters, awarded a certificate of recognition to the Montana Meth Project for “its significant role in helping to drive meth from the state.”

Remember nurseryman John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) rolling and tumbling across the heartland planting orchards and seeds that would become thriving apple trees long after he had moved on? Drive on across the country and leave small kindnesses planted behind you. Tell people where to find the message. You may save a life.