Ty Erickson had nightmares that the morgue called him to identify his daughters body.
He didnt know where she was or who was with her. He just knew that what she was doing was dangerous.
My phone would ring and I (would) wonder if I would have to go pick up my dead daughter, he said. I would see her in a body bag.
Ericksons daughter, Tesja, was caught in methamphetamines downward spiral, and it seemed there was no way out.
I was deeply involved in transporting it, dealing it, Tesja said. There were guns involved. Mothers and fathers minds are always going to go where their daughters are at.
Tesja used meth for six years.
All it took was once, she said. It destroyed my life in every aspect.
After taking the drug for the first time in her early 20s, it consumed her. By the end, I was doing it just to feel normal, just to function, she said. I wasnt even getting high anymore. The fun ends very quickly, if there ever is any fun to begin with.
After facing three drug charges and jail, Tesja said a probation officer helped guide her back to reality.
In 30 days, the 32-year-old Idaho Falls resident will mark six years of sobriety. Staying clean is a battle she will face every day for the rest of her life.
And shell help herself face it by volunteering on the front lines of the Idaho Meth Project.
In June 2006, a DVD sat stashed away in Debbie Fields desk.
At the time, Field was Gov. Butch Otters campaign manager. The DVD was a compilation of ads from the Montana Meth Project. Otter wanted her to take a look.
When he won the election, Otter and his wife, Lori, asked Field to start a similar program as the administrator of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. Today, shes the Idaho Meth Projects board president.
Field tirelessly toured the states drug court system, schools, churches and community groups, making more than 170 stops to learn more about meth and how it affected the state.
I saw a 10-year-old girl, she said. Her parents were in prison; her brothers were meth traffickers. She had been selling her body for two years to pay for it. Thats an 8-year-old. Thats in Idaho Falls.
The Idaho campaign is a statewide prevention program aimed at reducing meth use, especially among children and teens, through public service messaging, public policy, community outreach and a highly saturated marketing campaign.
The project, closely tied with MethProject.org, targets people with hard-hitting ads that aim to curb meth use before it starts.
Started in 2008, the Idaho program marked the first time that those in law enforcement, medical care, drug courts, schools and others united in the fight against the drug, Field said.
Young people know what meth is, its physical effects and how addictive it is. Those are telling signs that the Idaho Meth Projects message is effectively reaching its target audience, Idaho Meth Project Executive Director Gina Heideman said.
According to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, teen meth use in Idaho dropped 52 percent between 2007 and 2009, the largest decline in the nation for that period.
Increases in the perceptions of the risk of trying meth just once or twice were reported in each of the 14 risk areas measured since the 2010 Idaho Meth Use and Attitudes Survey.
No one had really been talking about meth and in the beginning we found the majority of people didnt know what meth was, Heideman said.
According to the 2010 survey, 65 percent of teens think there is great risk in taking meth just once or twice up 10 percentage points from 2007.
Eighty-one percent of those surveyed agreed there was great risk in getting hooked on meth (up 10 points); 73 percent agreed using meth could cause brain damage (up 15); 65 percent agreed meth use contributes to tooth decay (up 17); and 64 percent said using meth contributes to violence (up 14).
Those statistics are meaningful to Idaho State Police Lt. Steve Davis.
With 63 percent of Idaho felony drug court participants indicating meth as the drug of choice, an ounce of prevention goes a long way, he said.
If we can get ahead of it, if we can curb those people trying it that didnt know how it can affect them, we have a section of future addicts that we never have to deal with because they didnt go down that path, he said.
Idaho spends up to $102 million per year to incarcerate and treat offenders who use meth. Thats up to 55 percent of the Idaho Department of Corrections total budget.
Field said the projects effectiveness is due to one thing: a highly saturated anti-meth ad campaign.
The campaign has included more than 61,000 TV ads, 72,000 radio ads, 885 billboards and 20,745,000 online impressions.
But those ads, which often portray young people in dangerous, filthy environments or in sexually suggestive circumstances, havent come without criticism.
City councils, such as in Post Falls, have been asked by residents to take down some of the ads due to their graphic depictions. Field said residents have asked why the ads have to be so grotesque.
From when we launched in 2008, we were told to expect some of that controversy, Field said. We were geared for that realizing it wasnt a campaign built on fantasy. This is a campaign based on reality. These are things based on peoples lives.
Davis said the effect of the ads is undeniable. He remains unapologetic about their nature, saying what worked 20 years ago doesnt reach kids the same way now.
Ive been working narcotics for 17 years of my career, he said. This methamphetamine thing, it changes the dynamic of the work we do it is the most evil thing Ive seen in my career.
The ads always are adapting to ensure that they reach the right audience.
Right now we target online sites that research has shown to be highly trafficked by our target demographic teens ages 12-17, Heideman said.
RING OF TRUTH
Tesja Erickson said the ads are no exaggeration of the circumstances meth users experience every day.
I cant watch them because they trigger me back to what I experienced, she said.
Ty Erickson said families going through meth addiction still have one thing: hope.
I worry about families looking at these, and they know their family is in trouble and their hearts are in trouble, he said. A percentage of these people do turn things around. Tesja turned things around. Somehow, we have to reach out to those in the middle of this battle and let them know there still is hope.
His daughter has vowed to take her message to anyone who will listen.
Its a very traumatic experience to get up in front of people, Tesja said. I have (dreams about using meth) before and after. It takes a lot out of me, but I need to educate the people of Idaho.
Theres no reason for people to remain in the dark anymore.
Christina Lords: 542-6762