Community-Based Drug Prevention

Reality Tour focuses on drug addiction

The Times Leader – January 27, 2010

By Rory Sweeney Staff Writer

WEST PITTSTON – Without actually dying from a drug overdose, students from Wyoming Area and Greater Pittston Area school districts experienced what might be the next closest thing on Monday evening.

About a year ago, Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug Services, Inc. purchased Reality Tour, a drug addiction prevention program developed in the Pittsburgh area. The program – the first of its kind in the region – combines a live enactment of a drug arrest, an overdose death in a hospital emergency room and a funeral along with statistics, information, legal ramifications and the experiences of a recovered addict.

The roughly 100 people packed into the borough building for the inaugural showing were a mix of students and their parents from the two districts’ Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Action Team.

After the “drug arrest” – which featured a planted suspect sitting in the crowd – WVADS Chief Executive Officer Carmen Ambrosino noted that there have been 448 overdose deaths in the county in the past nine years. Even with employees holding signs that read “Quiet Please!”, the realistic scenes that followed elicited a near-constant whisper.

And for good reason: most of the participants in the scenes were playing out what actually happens at their jobs. West Pittston and Pittston police officers made the mock arrest and booking, while volunteers from Geisinger Health System performed the emergency room scene.

“We rehearsed it, but once tonight came, there was a lot of emotion that came out from them that wasn’t in the rehearsal,” Ambrosino said of the actors, which included WVADS employees.

“We saw the impact that it has on kids and the community,” said Sue Mizenko, who coordinated the event. “We intend in the future to have more programs, but we have to (find) permanent housing.”

WVADS is looking to lease a space for monthly showings.

Mizenko said one benefit of the event is that it requires parents to accompany their children. She said they’ve held informational events at schools, but found parents don’t come for fear that people will think their kids have drug problems.

Luzerne County Senior District Judge Andrew Barilla read the experience of a 17-year-old who dies in a car crash, saying it’s required reading for any teenagers who come before him for traffic offenses in the hope that it will make them or their parents cry.

But the real emotional impact came when Frankie took the floor. Now sober for two years, the recovering drug addict said he’d spent the past seven years in and out of incarceration and rehab. “A lot of what was said tonight was my story,” he said.

“Drugs and alcohol are so strong they’ll take the sweetest little girl or the sweetest little kid and tear them apart.”