Community-Based Drug Prevention

One Addict’s Struggle

The Record Herald – February 21, 2008

By Denise Bonura

The Record Herald

Chambersburg, Pa. – Rebecca’s dramatized “life with drugs” ended with the flat beep of a heart monitor and her parents’ suffering at her funeral — and for the rest of their lives.

Eighteen-year-old Rebecca Etter of Chambersburg played the role of a drug addict Tuesday night in the Franklin County Courthouse as part of the county’s Reality Tour program, a national project of Candle Inc., launched in November 2006. The tour is designed to make area youths think about their choices and stay away from drugs.

The program began with Rebecca sitting in the jury assembly room with her “parents” and participants in the program as volunteers announced that no one was allowed to leave.

She got up and tried to run out the door when Officer Michael Taylor with the Chambersburg Police Department tackled her to the ground. Officer Taylor handcuffed a kicking, screaming Rebecca as he found drugs in her back pocket.

Becoming ‘popular’

As Rebecca was being “arraigned,” county drug and alcohol prevention specialist Lauri Davis played a narrative for the teens watching the skits with wide eyes.

“I used to play soccer and play with my brother,” Rebecca said. “I used to be just like you.”

Rebecca said she was never popular in school until the day she was invited to a party and began smoking marijuana to be cool around her new “friends.”

The habit starts

One night, Rebecca was approached by a boy who gave her a blue plastic bag with the word “dynamite,” written on it. She thought he was a friend, since he let her try heroin for free.

But, later she said she realized he was just looking for another customer. When the addiction set in, she was using more and more just to stay well.

“Now, I can’t make it without a hit,” she said.

The participating teens and their parents watched from a holding cell as Rebecca had her mug shot taken in an orange jump suit and her fingerprints recorded. She claimed, through tears, that the drugs weren’t hers.

Bailed out

Rebecca’s “father” bailed her out of jail. She said he didn’t have enough money to send her to rehab and she soon began hanging with the wrong crowd. Her cousin also used drugs, and she was happy she could once again fool her parents.

Rebecca’s cousin took her to a party where she took some potent drugs. The drugs were so potent she was sent to the hospital, where she died of an overdose.

She told the audience in her narrative that the lying was over and her so-called “friends” wouldn’t tell anyone how she died for fear of getting into trouble. She also said her “friends” will stop talking about her in a few months, but her parents will have to live with her bad decisions for the rest of their lives.

Growing problem

Officer Taylor said he has been a police officer for a good number of years and has seen the toll that drugs can take.

“I’ve seen all kinds of things,” he told the group. “You only hear about a tenth of what police see on a regular basis. People who are involved with drugs don’t always act in a normal manner and can’t always control themselves. I see it on a weekly basis and I see the same people over and over and over again because once you start doing drugs, you can’t get out of it.”

He added that there are county officers that only investigate drug cases.

“That tells you what kind of problem we have,” he said.

Officer Taylor applauded the teens for attending the program and urged them to learn from what they saw.

“This is as real as we can make it,” he added. “Parents talk to your kids, and kids, tell your parents what you deal with. I know it’s hard, but this will jump right in front of your face. It happened to me (when I was younger).”

Officer Taylor held up a poster depicting a woman who was addicted to heroin for 14 years. Her first arrest photo was taken when she was 16 and her last was taken when she was 30, just a few months before she died of an overdose. In the last photo, the woman looked like she was 80.

“It (heroin) will destroy you,” promised Taylor.

Drug society

Trooper Ed Asbury with Pennsylvania State Police also spoke to the group during the three-hour tour. He said Americans are living in a drug society, and no matter where we go, we are faced with them.

“Look at what we do every day,” he said. “When we want to get happy, we take a pill; when we want to sleep, we take a pill; when we want to be thin, we take a pill.”

Drugs come in many forms to entice children. Davis said some methamphetamines come in the form of strawberry rock candy. Heart-shaped pills and smiley-face ecstasy tablets also are marketed to the younger crowd.

Willing want

Asbury asked audience if anyone was a smoker.

One woman said she’s been smoking forever. Trooper Asbury said he could show her a black lung and tell her how many chemicals she was inhaling, and it wouldn’t make her stop smoking because of the addiction.

“No matter what I say, it’s not going to change the way you feel,” he said. “It has to be an internal willing want to stop. As a police officer, what disturbs me the most is it’s (drug use) getting younger and younger and younger.”

The average age one starts doing drugs these days is 10, according to Davis.

Asbury also urged the teens to alert the police if they are offered drugs or see someone doing drugs. Anonymous hotlines are available for such reports.

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For more information on the program or ways to help a loved one struggling with an addiction, call Davis at 263-1256. To report drug use, call the Franklin County Drug Task Force’s anonymous hotline at 1-800-344-3127 or e-mail tips@drugtaskforce.org.