Community-Based Drug Prevention

Live lessons on addiction in planning

Luzerne County Times Leader – October 28, 2006

By JENNIFER LEARN-ANDES

A moving reality anti-drug program known to bring parents and children to tears may be coming to Luzerne County.

Actors portray scenes in the life of a teen on heroin, including his prison booking, an overdose death scene using real emergency workers, and a funeral with a coffin and sobbing mourners.

Bedford County’s program starts on the street showing the addict breaking into a car and getting caught by actual state police. Armstrong County sets the stage with the addict getting pressured by peers to use drugs.

Luzerne County Commissioner Greg Skrepenak said he will push to bring it here because it’s a dose of reality for children and parents.

“Parents need to wake up to that reality that drugs are all around, and they need to sit down and talk to their kids about it,” he said.

It’s not a pipedream because the program is affordable and requires little ongoing maintenance expense, Skrepenak said. The program relies heavily on volunteer actors and donated props.

Children often tune out literature and lectures, so the idea of bringing lessons to life with live actors caught the attention of Luzerne County Drug and Alcohol Director Mike Donahue, who initially pitched the proposal to Skrepenak.

Skrepenak has set up a visit to Butler County’s program, which is so popular it must be booked months in advance.

The nonprofit CANDLE Inc. designed the program, trademarked as “Reality Tour,” for children ages 10 and older. They must attend with an adult.

The program model costs $2,500 and requires an annual $250 fee.

Most counties set it up in a real prison, though Skrepenak does not know if that will be feasible here because the facility is so overcrowded. He’s confident the county will find space, even if it requires props simulating a prison.

Denise Marano, a prevention specialist who helps oversee Armstrong County’s Reality Tour, said organizers originally planned to schedule tours three or four times a year.

“The response was so overwhelming, we have only been able to take one month off,” Marano said.

The scenes are intentionally dramatic and graphic, she said. Children who think they are invincible and in charge of their own lives get a sense of how addiction can make them lose control and hurt those around them, Marano said.

“We get some pretty cynical kids who come in with a certain attitude and don’t usually leave with same attitude.”

Sheila Bambling, some victims advocate for the Bedford County District Attorney’s Office, said the program there is an “eye-opening experience.”

The funeral scene is set up with a registry, pictures, flowers and a teddy bear. The parents hug youths as they pass through the condolence line, begging them not to make the same mistake.

“When they come into that room, you should see the look on their faces.”

Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.