Clarion County s Promise is again scheduling its Reality Tour performances this spring to give community members an insider s perspective on drug abuse. The program is especially relevant given the county s disturbing trend in heroin use. There were five heroin overdoses within three months, said Clarion County s Promise executive director Sheila Snyder, and two of the young people died. Drug use isn t just a school, family or individual problem, Snyder said. Communities need to become involved in finding solutions as well. Many individuals are not aware of the fact that children start experimenting with drugs in elementary school and some are using regularly by the time they are in the eighth grade. Snyder said these are not stereotypical teens who are getting into the drug scene. It can happen to absolutely anyone, anywhere, Snyder said.
Clarion County Drug & Alcohol Administration officials also have reported an increase in the use of services for adolescents. The largest age group that receives such services is between the ages of 19 and 25. In 2007-08, 39 percent of those admitted for help were age 25 and under; 11 percent were 18 and under while 28 percent were between the ages of 19 and 25. Clarion County drug and alcohol case manager Carrie L. Acklin said the number of heroin-related incidents in the county has drastically increased from four incidents in 2007 to 29 in 2008. The county is beginning to see an elevated number of overdoses this year, she said. Addiction doesn t discriminate, Acklin said. It doesn t matter who you are, what you do, or where you re from; addiction will not go away and if left alone, it will only get worse. Information about drug and alcohol treatment and support groups for family members of individuals with substance dependence is available by calling the office at 226-5888.
Snyder cites statistics that indicate children as young as 10 and 11 report starting with experimentation, which then leads to drug abuse and addiction problems. No one starts using drugs with the goal of becoming an addict and many don t realize where they are heading until it s too late, she said. According to the 2007 Pennsylvania Youth Survey, Clarion County students as young as those in the sixth grade are regularly using alcohol and experimenting with other drugs, such as marijuana, crack and heroin. In Clarion County, more than 22 percent of children in elementary school are experimenting with alcohol. Overall, 5.7 percent of teens in sixth, eighth, 10th or 12th grades have reported regular use of any illicit drug, excluding marijuana, which is 1 percent higher than the state drug use. Nearly five times as many teens reported experimenting with heroin in Clarion County compared to the state. Snyder said while some areas of drug use have gone down from the 2005 PAYS report, Clarion County is still higher than the state in almost every area of drug use.State police officials say they are working to combat the heroin epidemic with assistance from local agencies and Clarion County District Attorney Mark Aaron s office. It s believed that easy access to the drug plays a strong factor.
Snyder said prevention has been proven to work. It is more cost-effective and less harmful for the person to prevent drug addiction than it is for the person to attempt to overcome drug addictions. In order for prevention to be effective, it must be implemented in all areas of a child s life, home, school, and community as well as the individual, Snyder said. The Reality Tour Drug Prevention program was created by Norma Norris of Butler in 2003, and is now promoted through the nonprofit organization CANDLE Inc. Clarion County s Promise has purchased the program through funding from the Pennsylvania attorney general and started the program last spring. The tour is recommended for children ages 10 (fifth grade) and up when accompanied by a parent. Advance reservation is required as space is limited and parental consent is required. Participants will follow the fate of a fictitious teen addicted to heroin. The tour includes an arrest and prison experience, as well as a dramatic emergency room overdose scene and funeral home scene. A narrative by the addict precedes each scene and includes the constant reminder to the audience that I m just like you. These performances will be followed by a question-and-answer time with law enforcement, a former addict, and Clarion County Drug and Alcohol prevention specialists. In addition, information about drug abuse and ways to help families avoid drug abuse will be available.
Officials say the program is not just for troubled teens but is as much for parents as it is for children. Snyder said it can help teens who have friends combating a drug problem or temptation, parents whose teens might be experimenting or already using, and teens who are not using. Our goal is to stop that first experimentation that can so easily turn into a life-long problem, she said. This is for everyone. No one is completely safe from the temptation or access to drugs. The tour experience will again be hosted by the First Church of God on Brian Lane in New Bethlehem. Although there were three scheduled performances in the spring, this month s Reality Tour is already sold out. Two more performances will be offered April 23 and May 28. Early registration is recommended. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. on the night of the performance, and the program runs for about two hours. There will be no late admissions because of the formality of the program. A fee of $5 per participant is requested to help cover the cost of the program; however, no one will be turned away because of lack of funds. Registration forms are available by visiting www.candleinc.org Registration is also offered through Clarion County's Promise office. The Reality Tour is a volunteer-operated program with volunteers of all ages needed. Interested individuals may call Clarion County s Promise at 223-1590.