Mendocino County’s drug problems are back in the national spotlight, but this time the coverage is favorable thanks to an innovative and potentially money-making computer program targeting teenagers and methamphetamine use.
“Face2Face” is a 3D computer software program that shows impressionable teens what they might look like if they become chronic meth users and suffer long-term effects on teeth, skin and hair. Drug prevention specialists nationwide are hailing the program because it dramatically shows the consequences to an age group where appearances count.
“Face2Face” is less than a year old but attention to its promising possibilities is rapidly spreading. And success in the nation’s drug education market means the county sheriff’s department will net 10 percent of sales to expand local drug programs.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman in a new post Friday on Facebook says National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” is planning to broadcast a segment on Face2Face this weekend.
ABC News showcased the program on Jan. 7 in a segment entitled, “Can Showing Bad Looks Prevent a Bad Habit?” Medical reporter Joseph Brownstein quoted a UCLA addiction specialist as saying, “I think that it’s definitively an innovative approach. It’s showing consequences of meth in a very personalized manner.”
Allman says he came up with the Face2Face idea after watching a computer program at a local cosmetics counter showing customers what they might look like depending on the type of makeup used.
Allman figured why not use a computer to show the potential effects of chronic meth use on personal appearance. “Kids think that they have this Teflon coating on them and nothing bad happens to them,” Allman told ABC.
Allman, a former narcotics officer, has long contended that the scourge of meth production and its spreading use is of far more serious consequence than the county’s better-known role as a major marijuana producer.
The software program emerged after Allman and the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians in 2008 received a federal grant to create a county-wide meth-education program.
The Face2Face concept at first wasn’t an easy sell.
Allman says he tried to get nearly two dozen software companies interested in the project before finally convincing a Moss Beach firm, Abalone LLC, to develop it.
Abalone CEO Laslo Vestremi said he believes the program works with teens because “The message sticks. It has retention value.”
The program became available in early 2009, and already has been adopted for use in Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Cruz counties, and as far away as Mobile, Ala. It’s no “cop comes to the classroom” program either. Instead Maureen Wattenburger, a stylish young woman who connects easily with kids, was hired by the county to take the computer program into classrooms, and show it at public events across the county.
Allman is proud of the attention the Mendocino program is receiving. But he’s been telling interviewers that while the software program may be a powerful new educational tool, it’s no panacea. Parents still need to have straight talk with their kids about drug use, says Allman.