shots reveal toll of addiction – Health – Addictions.
By Linda Carroll. msnbc.com contributor. updated 2/25/2011 6:29:15 PM ET
With disturbing before and after photos of
drug users’ faces, a new anti-drug campaign
may succeed where others have failed,
grabbing teens’ attentions by appealing to
The pairs of mug shots, which graphically
display the damage drugs can do to the face,
were collected by the sheriff’s office in
Multnomah County, Ore.
Faces that were normal — even attractive — in
initial photos, shot when addicts were first
arrested, metamorphose over years, and
sometimes just months, into gaunt, pitted,
even toothless wrecks.
The photos are part of a 48-minute
documentary called “From Drugs to Mugs,”
created by Deputy Bret King. King hopes that
the documentary, which is available on a DVD
along with a CD of mug shots, will help scare
kids straight by showing them concrete
evidence of damage that can occur within
months from using meth, heroin or cocaine.
“The thinking is that this will give kids a
tangible image of what can happen if they get
involved in using hard drugs,” King says. “We
did want to appeal to their sense of vanity.”
King understands the power of that teen
vanity. “I remember in high school you had to
have the right clothes, the right shoes, the
right look,” he says.
Slideshow: From drugs to mugs: Faces of
Perhaps the most stunning feature of the
photos is how quickly the face is damaged.
That speed isn’t surprising to addiction
Meth, for example, can cause small blood
vessels around the face to constrict, says A.
Thomas McLellan, director of the Center for
Substance Abuse Solutions at the University of
“So consequently, the gums shrink as they do
in old age,” says McLellan, also former deputy
director of the United States Office of National
Drug Control Policy. “The teeth that remain
can become discolored and black.”
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Both meth and heroin are often cut with sugar,
McLellan explains. “And you get acne from oily
or sweet things, so if you’re injecting the sugar
into your veins it’s even more direct,” he adds.
Other impurities can cause lumpy cysts on the
face and other areas of the body, such as the
armpits and groin, McLellan says.
The gaunt look on many of the addicts can be
the result of poor nutrition and lack of sleep,
says Dr. Larissa Mooney, an addiction
psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor
of psychiatry at the University of California,
As for the facial sores: Sometimes meth users
will hallucinate and get the sensation that
there are bugs crawling under their skin,
Mooney says. Trying to get relief, they’ll
sometimes pick at their skin until there are
Experts can’t say whether the program will
work, but Mooney and McLellan are hopeful.
“The video is trying to tap into something that
is important to young people,” Mooney says.
It’s less abstract than telling someone they’ll
get lung cancer many years down the line. This
is something you can actually see right now.”
McLellan agrees that the short time to facial
devastation may have a big impact on kids.
“Some of these photos show changes in less
than six months,” he says. “This is the kind of
time frame kids understand.