The Record Herald – February 21, 2008
By Denise Bonura
Chambersburg, Pa. –
Did you know that 40 percent of high school students think it’s OK to try heroin?
Did you know that one in five eighth-graders has already tried marijuana?
Did you know that the average age a person starts using drugs these days is 10?
And did you know that most of the offers children get for drugs come from their friends?
Some local teens were shocked to hear those statistics while participating in a three-hour Reality Tour program Tuesday night in the Franklin County Courthouse.
The program, a national project of Candle Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Butler, was presented by volunteers and staff members from the Franklin/Fulton County Drug and Alcohol Program.
The Reality Tour was launched in Franklin County in November 2006. It strives to get youths between the ages of 10 to 18 thinking about their actions and the effect their actions have not only on themselves, but on their family and friends.
The program included group discussions, real-life skits, a video and guest speakers, including a former drug addict. The teens had their photos taken, and organizers “morphed” those photos to show what they would look like after abusing drugs.
When it was all over, they all had the chance to trace their hand on a banner and sign their names, promising to stay drug-free.
The 23 young people who attended first were broken into small groups and listed as narrators read stories regarding various illegal drugs.
One described an addiction to heroin.
“A friend told me if you snort heroin, you can’t get addicted to it,” one read. “I was snorting five bags a day just so I didn’t get headaches.”
A county case worker said he sees a lot of heroin addicts and noted it’s one of the more difficult addictions to break.
“An average person goes through rehab six times before they can kick heroin,” he told the group.
He also said people who are addicted to pain killers can turn to heroin use. One reason heroin is a big problem in Franklin County is its proximity to Interstate 81, according to the case worker.
Other common addictions include over-the-counter cough syrup and cold medicines.
Lauri Davis, county drug and alcohol prevention specialist, had two teens demonstrate how difficult it is to break an addiction. She put a piece of rope around each of their wrists and entwined them. Jason Vinson, 13, and Nicholas Thomas, 12, wiggled around trying to get free without damaging the ropes. When they couldn’t do it, Davis said they had to first realize they had a problem and then ask for help. Once she helped them out of the bind, she told the audience to notice the ropes were still around their wrists.
“Just because you’re out of an addiction, you will have consequences that will affect you for the rest of your life,” she warned.
Many of the teens sat with wide eyes and their mouths open as they watched 18-year-old Rebecca Etter get “arrested” for possession of narcotics. They were taken to her jail cell, where her mug shot and fingerprints were taken. The group then visited the “emergency room,” where Rebecca died on the gurney. Then they saw her “parents’” pain and suffering during her funeral.
Once the eye-opening skits were over, the group watched a 20-minute video that detailed real-life emergency room experiences.
“Every drug has the potential to be dangerous,” one doctor warned.
Drugs can lead to cardiac arrest, and a coma is sometimes the consequence of binge drinking.
The video showed bloody car accident victims wheeled into the emergency room as catheters and tubes were inserted.
“I wish they (teenagers) could stand here and watch us one night and everything we do … I think that would be a life lesson in itself,” another doctor said.
One boy told the story of the time he was driving drunk and killed his two friends, and a girl related the time she almost died from alcohol poisoning.
Former drug addict
Daniel Jensen, 32, spoke to the teens about his former heroin addiction.
“I was a straight-A student, in all gifted classes and on the honor roll,” he said. “But, I spent all of my 20s addicted to heroin.”
He said his stepfather let him try mixed drinks one night when he was 2. His family moved to Germany and when he was 14, he began buying alcohol. His mother let him smoke marijuana with her when he was 15.
“You know, a lot of people say marijuana is a gateway drug,” he said. “Marijuana is what put me around the people that did the other drugs.”
Jensen said he was insecure about being accepted. He entered his first rehab when he was 18 and began buying heroin when he was 19 or 20.
“I have a lot of friends who died,” he said. “I lied to everyone that cared about me and stole from my family.”
Jensen was arrested when he was 25 for selling heroin.
“I would go to Baltimore, sometimes a few times a day, to help destroy somebody else’s life,” recalled Jensen, who admitted he dealt the drug.
After three years in jail, he moved to a recovery house in York, but he still felt like he wasn’t part of the community, since he still sold drugs from time to time.
“Stopping drugs is one thing, fixing yourself is another.”
What really opened Jensen’s eyes was watching his daughter, now 9, being raised by her stepfather.
“I had to watch another guy do the job I should have been doing,” he added.
Jensen has been clean for three years and is now selling art in Denver, Colo. He said it becomes easier the farther away from the lifestyle you are.
“I feel like I’m part of the rest of the world now,” he added.
Charlotte Vinson and her son, Jason, of Greencastle said the program was “scary” and that they can relate to it.
“I want a deterrent, I want ways to avoid it,” Charlotte said.
Jason said he will pass on the information to his friends.
Anita Thomas of Thurmont said she brought her son, Nicholas, because he has been getting into trouble at school lately.
“I’m trying to do something to straighten him up,” she said.
Nicholas said he learned to stay away from drugs and will try to stay out of trouble now.
Zane Bard, 14, of Chambersburg said he has experienced peer pressure at school and learned how dangerous some of the drugs really are.
Franklin County Commissioner David Keller was very impressed.
“It was a great mix of reality, education and shock,” he said. “It was definitely more effective than reading a pamphlet.”
Jeff Longfellow, a volunteer with Enough is Enough, a group of parents promoting drug awareness, said the program is incredibly powerful and provides a “strong, emotional impact.”
Davis hopes all children 10 to 18 will participate. To date, there have been 265 who experienced the tour. A Chambersburg family donated the money that helped purchase the program’s guidelines.
“The parents are truly the No. 1 resource kids have to keep them clean and drug free,” added Davis. “My job is to get people thinking.”
For more information on the program, call Davis at 263-1256 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org