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Social Media Mocks South Dakota's 'Meth. We're On It' Campaign

NOEL KING, HOST:

South Dakota has a problem - many of its residents are suffering from addiction to methamphetamines, so the state started a new anti-meth campaign. Governor Kristi Noem unveiled it earlier this week. And the slogan is, meth - we're on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I'm on meth.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: So am I.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Meth is not someone else's problem; it's everyone in South Dakota's problem. And we need everyone to get on it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I'm on meth.

KING: There was a backlash to that. It was called tone deaf, confusing, offensive. The governor says the point of the campaign is to raise awareness, and so it's working. With me now is South Dakota's Social Services Secretary Laurie Gill. Good morning, Ms. Gill.

LAURIE GILL: Good morning.

KING: Very briefly, let me ask you - meth; we're on it - what is that meant to telegraph?

GILL: Yeah, that slogan was specifically designed to be provocative and to get awareness of the issue of meth. Really, meth is all of our problem in South Dakota, and it specifically is meaning - you know, we've got a lot of things that are coming together, a lot of people that have issues revolving around meth. Together this is our problem, and we're on it. We're on the solution. We need to work on this together.

KING: There's been a lot of criticism. One of the more poignant complaints, I thought, is that this just makes South Dakota look bad, that it made the state itself an object of mockery. Do you understand the criticism?

GILL: Yes, we do understand that. However, we feel that this is such an important issue that, as we were designing a campaign - and it is designed to be an educational awareness campaign - we were after something that would get people's attention, stop them in their tracks and get them understanding and listening that we do have a problem.

There have been many attempts at anti-drug campaigns over the decades, and there's so much out there right now in terms of advertising and social media. But we were looking for something that would bust through that clutter and get people's attention and stop them in their tracks.

KING: The governor has said, I mean, openly, well, look - guys, it started a conversation. And to that end, you're saying she has a point.

GILL: That's right. We do feel that, you know, this is something that they haven't seen before, the public hasn't seen before. And it is using a play on words and that - we feel that the end result, at least right now - this campaign just started on Monday, so we're in Day 3 - and we are creating a lot of buzz. And I have been able to talk about the issue and talk about where we want to go with this for three days now because we have people stopping and looking and listening and asking, well, what's next?

KING: Well, let me ask you, for our listeners who are not from South Dakota who may not know the specifics, what is the problem with methamphetamine in South Dakota? What's going on?

GILL: Yeah. Well, you know, we have a governor that just came in in January, and as she's been looking at the statistics, it has been alarming to her, and really, this is not OK with her. And so, you know, one of the statistics is that we have twice as many South Dakota 12- to 17-year-olds that report using meth in the past year than the national average.

We are focused on trying to make South Dakota a great state for the next generation. And everything that we do we look at through the lens of how is this positioning us to be able to be a place where the kids can stay and raise their families? And when we have an issue that's affecting our children and our youth, we're going to get on it.

KING: OK. And so over the next couple of days, are you hoping that the furor will die down and you can get to the real - the heart of the issue?

GILL: Well, we know that this has a lot of worry going on right now, and we continue to talk about it and use this momentum to be able to push people to the website that we have developed. It's onmeth.com. And that is another one of our goals...

KING: OK.

GILL: ...Is that when people become aware of the issue, they're looking at the resources that are available.

KING: Laurie Gill, Social Services secretary for the state of South Dakota. Thank you.

GILL: Mmm hmm. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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