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News (Media Awareness Project) - Mexico: Creatively Confronting Addiction
Title:Mexico: Creatively Confronting Addiction
Published On:2012-01-07
Source:Lancet, The (UK)
Fetched On:2012-01-08 06:00:55

We are all at risk of addiction.

Vices are endemic to the human condition and each of us has the
potential to become an addict.

Scare statements? Not at the Museo Interactivo Sobre Las Adicciones
(aka MIA) in CuliacA!n, Mexico. MIA is a unique interactive games and
exhibit-based addiction museum""narcotics feature, but so too do
alcohol, tobacco, food, gambling, and internet addictions. MIA
broadcasts a strong message: addictions are pandemic and they are global.

"Addiction is a disease not a choice" , Nora Volkow, Director of the
US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), says as she speaks with
me on the phone from her office in Rockville, MD. Volkow was
influential in the American Society of Addiction Medicine's
redefinition of addiction as a primary, chronic neurological disease,
and she and her team advised on MIA's content, together with other
experts from Mexico and Europe. "Blunted pathways and fewer D2
dopamine receptors mean addicts find it harder and harder to feel
good" , she explains. "Even people with no baseline genetic risk can
become addicts if their environment is stressful.

Social factors are extremely important in addiction" , she says
emphatically. Relentless or unavoidable social pressures are issues
that have been incorporated into the MIA experiential spaces, and the
result is a series of exhibits aimed at MIA's target audience of
young people aged 9-17 years.

MIA's educational objectives are even more remarkable given its
infamous locale: drug traffickers are known to operate in CuliacA!n
and the city has its own distinct "oenarcocultura" .

The immersive and interactive MIA experience is intended to be "a fun
environment with a serious purpose, enjoyment but with real feedback"
, says Alex McCuaig, Chairman of MET Studio, which helped create the
museum interiors and exhibition design.

It's "not overtly didactic" he adds, "but gives visitors experiences
they can relate to" . More than 50 CuliA!canenses were interviewed,
including addicts, police officers, social workers, psychologists,
teachers, residents, families, and schoolchildren, and their stories
form the foundation for many of the exhibits.

Facts, life lessons, communication, and health are four key areas
throughout the museum and these focal points are realised through
games and experiences. Health Action, for example, lets visitors do
popular CuliacA!nense activities like horse riding, dancing, boxing,
baseball, and cycling via computer simulations, and promotes the idea
of finding excitement in physical activity.

Immersive journeys take visitors through distorting addictive
environments, which are initially fun and exciting but descend into
darker experiences. The Interactive Classroom gives student groups
the opportunity to interact with a bespoke movie about a day in the
life of three local high school students and the influence of
addiction in the world around them.

MIA creatively confronts addiction by educating visitors through
local stories and experiences. MIA is "honest" McCuaig says, "it
doesn't shy away from highlighting failings of local society and
government but it does so in a way that is palatable" . Volkow adds
that MIA offers "a choice for life" . "Education was the most
important thing in my family" , she remembers, and the museum
"creates a buffer" for those young people who may not have an
educational home environment. "People don't choose addiction" , says
Volkow, and healthy environments and educational support systems must
be prioritised. Hopefully, the museum will play its part in this task
by offering an experience that is fun, educational, and unforgettable.
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