In two years, the state dropped from fifth to 39th in the use of the illegal drug. Its secret: good advertising.
In 2005, Montanans were leaving home – not because they were fleeing the state for better prospects; they were going to prison. The Treasure State had the fastest-growing prison population in the United States, fueled largely by a methamphetamine epidemic. Half of its male inmates and two-thirds of its female inmates were incarcerated for meth-related crimes.
Today all that's changed. Instead of struggling with America's fifth-worst meth problem, the state now ranks 39th. Teen use has declined 45 percent; adult use is down 70 percent.
Montana's experience is a dramatic example of success in America's war on drugs, especially against meth. In a report confirming the drop, 8.4 million workplace drug tests across the United States showed a 22 percent decline in meth use from 2006 to 2007 and a 19 percent drop in cocaine use over the same period. Overall, according to the report by Quest Diagnostics earlier this month, 3.8 percent of the tests indicated an illicit drug – the lowest level since the Madison, N.J., company began publishing results in 1988.
Two keys to the change in the US are better enforcement strategies and prevention education, experts say. But they caution that the improvements may not last if efforts flag.
"The bottom line is that the war on drugs continues," says David Crane, a professor at Syracuse University College of Law in New York. But "it's like grabbing onto water. Every time we grab onto it, it goes right through our fingers or diverts and goes somewhere else."