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As published on BehavioralHealthCentral.com

By Norma Norris, Executive Director CANDLE, Inc.

Caption: Dr. Jeffrey David, OB/GYN, Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, played role of grieving father in original Butler Reality Tour.

Every medical professional witnesses the effects of addiction on patients. Many agonize how addiction destroys families, fuels crime, changes neighborhoods and imperils our youth.

Many professionals are discovering a way to make a difference. The grassroots Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program has been growing county by county since 2004, aided by healthcare volunteers. The consequence-driven, parent/child program started in Butler 2003. It organizes existing community resources to present the real story of addiction.
Neil Capretto, D.O., Medical Director at Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Beaver County, recognizes the collaborative benefits, “One of the many strengths of Reality Tour is that it brings together drug and alcohol treatment providers, schools, churches, businesses, hospitals, police and the legal system. They network through this program to improve the life and health of youth.”

Reality Tour opens with brief dramatic scenes narrated by a ‘teen on drugs’ that involve the audience. Q & A sessions with police and a recovering addict offer insight. The tempo changes as parent/child learn coping skills and experience a revealing self-discipline test. Adults rate it as ‘priceless’ and a follow-up study shows 80% of youth are still working on prevention goals after three months.

CANDLE, Inc., is the Butler non-profit that oversees Reality Tour. Executive Director and developer Norma Norris recalls that, “The program took off by itself in 2003. We quickly had a 2-month waiting list. Soon other communities wanted to replicate it. Parents everywhere are eager to protect their children. Now over 25 communities are licensed.”

Healthcare professionals are key players according to Norris, “Dr. Jeffrey David and his wife Jan played the role of grieving parents for years. Butler Ambulance provided ER props and sends EMT’s monthly. Butler Memorial Hospital and Highmark were supportive.” Over 5,000 Butler residents have attended and all eight county school districts are involved.

Volunteers like VA Pharmacist Tiffany Kimmerle continue to step forward, “I truly feel Reality Tour can change a teenager’s mind about using drugs. Helping a program that has the ability to change lives, and probably save lives is most rewarding.”

County by county replications continued. Armstrong County Memorial Hospital joined with ARC Manor and District Attorney Scott Andreassi in 2005. Originally, six programs per year were planned but demand requires a monthly frequency.

In Westmoreland County, Excela Health plays a primary role. R.N. Tina Bobnar and her family manage the ER scene along with Scot Ritenour. Nurse Educator Sheri Walker recalls, “Excela Health sent an e-mail requesting volunteers. I was interested because I have seen the devastating effects of addiction when I worked in Labor and Delivery. The numbers of addicted moms was on the rise.” Her daughter Liza, who lost a classmate to an overdose, volunteered too declaring, “Mom, we have to do this!”

The parent/child approach appeals to Walker, “What impressed me the most and still does, is the focus on communication between parent and child. The program is not, “just say no,” but is more about, “these are some ideas for how to say no.” Reaching children before they start experimenting with drugs is why I believe in this program. Youth who attend have a chance to make an informed decision.”

Research by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy shows the Reality Tour does increase parent/child communication. Youth also report an increase in their perception of harm associated with drugs.

Norris underscores that, “The program is for the general public. Prevention has the best outcome when introduced early. A MetLife study shows a marked increase nationally for youth in grades 9-12, with 38% reporting past 30 day drug/alcohol use.”

While Western PA leads the state with 13 Reality Tour sites, Eastern PA healthcare providers are taking notice. Geisinger Medical Center, Wayne Memorial Hospital and the Child Death Review Team in Pike County are involved. Norris hopes to organize the whole state and has sights on Allegheny County next. Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Vermont will also start programs in 2010.

Any community is just 90 days away from a Reality Tour. Training is facilitated with the aid of CANDLE’s detailed manual and volunteer workshop on DVD. More information and newsletter signup is available at www.RealityTour.org. Or contact Norma at 724-679-1788 to arrange a teleconference.