Community-Based Drug Prevention

Reality Tour reveals consequences of drug abuse

Daily Times – January 20, 2011

By LINDA REILLY

Times Correspondent

UPPER DARBY — Upper Darby High School students, participating in the county’s first Reality Tour, learned the consequences of experimenting with drugs

The dramatic scenes began with a casual conversation and invitation to a teen party where booze and drugs would be free-flowing, and the subsequent arrest and prosecution of a drug dealer and another juvenile.

It culminated with the death of a 17-year-old from a drug overdose.

“What you saw was as close as you’ll ever get to seeing a drug overdose without getting involved,” Delaware County Memorial Hospital Paramedic Joseph Perezi said. “This is what police and doctors see and do every day.”

Holcomb Behavioral Systems and the township’s Weed and Seed program offered the program to parents and children in grades five through 12 and received positive reactions and a recommendation that it be mandatory for all students.

“I heard about this through the school,” said Yolanda Cucinotta, the mother of a 12-year-old Drexel Hill Middle School student. “I’m all about education. This program should be mandated for all grades. My daughter thought parts of it were a little scary, especially the emergency-room scene. She was eyes on. The school always takes the kids on bus trips, and they should take them to this. I’m really glad we were there.”

The Reality Tour program took place on Ashland Avenue and utilized the Primos Library, Primos District Court and jail and Primos-Secane-Westbrook Park Fire Department, which served as the emergency room.

Real-life officials and officers participated in the presentation.

Participants and volunteers playing their real-life roles included Magisterial District Judge Kelly Micozzie-Aguirre, Magisterial Judge Anthony Scanlon as the defense attorney, Pennsylvania State Constable Carmen Damiani as constable, Assistant District Attorney Ian McCurdy as prosecutor, Upper Darby Capt. Anthony Paparo and patrolmen Steve Cristinzio, Mike Givens and Robert Wheatley, as arresting officers, Juvenile Probation and Parole Officer Jennifer Green, schoolteacher Sabrina Perry and Delaware County Memorial Hospital paramedics and emergency room staff. Other parts were played by Rose Pucillo, Jim McCusker, Candice Linehan and Audrey Persing.

Upper Darby Township Library Director Nancy Hallowell served as funeral director in the last scene of the Reality Tour, complete with a casket provided by O’Leary’s Funeral Home.

Paparo’s nephew, Joseph Paparo, 17, and Kevin Dietzler, 28, portrayed the teens that engaged in buying and selling drugs. Dietzler was a last-minute understudy for P.J. Pucillo, who was injured prior to the play-acting.

High school students in other roles included Sharletta Hargrove, Angelica Rivera, Stephanie Kay, Jasmine Bryant and Anne Marie Bruce.

Perezi was first to step out of character to talk to the youth and parents on the Reality Tour after the teen was pronounced dead.

“I really liked the program,” Melanie Hudson, the parent of an 11-year-old, said. “It was so real, but sad. My eyes watered when the boy was pronounced dead. I felt for the victim and the family, not even knowing them. Everything they did solidified what I’ve been telling my daughter Veronica about drugs.”

Her daughter was saddened watching the emergency-room scene.

“I already know a lot about drugs, and I would say no if asked,” Veronica Hudson said. “It would mean I would throw away all my goals.”

Mayor Thomas Micozzie explained the condensed court hearings presented usually take about three months.

Micozzie recommended District Attorney G. Michael Green adopt the program for first-time drug offenders.

Green informed the group that more than 5,000 juvenile petitions were filed last year, with 40 percent for drug violations.

“This whole day was very frank and very important,” Green said.

A recovering drug addict spoke to the group about his experiences and Paparo offered a police perspective on drugs and a short video.

“Drug problems affect every part of our community,” police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said. “Programs like this are a way of getting the community involved. Drugs impact all other crimes spinning after it, burglary, robbery and theft.”

Parents and children left the Reality Tour with reference information, communication suggestions and community resources from Holcomb, Chitwood and Weed and Seed.

“I thought Capt. Paparo made a good point about calling home if drugs or alcohol is offered at a party,” Melanie Hudson said. “The party is over for them. They should go home.”

The next Reality Tour will be scheduled in the fall.