Fulton Gets A Dose Of "Reality"
There was "a death in the family" last Tuesday night at the courthouse in McConnellsburg. A teenager died of a heroin overdose in what was set up as a makeshift emergency room in the hallway and the scene was very grim. The only good news was that the death was staged, and the young man portraying the addict was merely acting out a part as a volunteer participant in Fulton County's first Reality Tour.
The three-hour presentation portrays the grim truth of addiction brought to life so children (between the ages of 10 and 18) and their parents can see the ultimate consequences of addiction. The Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program is an innovative, dramatic narrative and interactive walk in the life of a teen on heroin started in July 2003 in Butler, Pa. Since then it has grown nationally and is now presented in Pennsylvania in Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Clarion, Lawrence, Mercer, Indiana, Forest, Franklin, Fulton, Elk, Lehigh, Schuykill, Warren and Wayne counties and continues in Butler with three sites.
In Fulton County, the Franklin/ Fulton Drug & Alcohol program contracts with Fulton County Center for Families to provide drug and alcohol prevention services. Tour guides for the Reality Tour are Beth Bryant and Shay Bradshaw, two of the Center for Families parenting workers.
The tour began in the courtroom with the nearly 30 in attendance being given a slip of paper describing a drug addiction that they are to pretend they have. The lively discussion, moderated by Kara Truax, included questions asked about symptoms, signs and other warning signals for various addictions, including crack cocaine, heroin and crystal meth as well as prescription drugs such as Oxycontin and other legal pain medications.
Many in attendance were also shocked to hear that:
• 40 percent of U.S. teens say they expect to use a drug in the future;
• 1 of every 5 eighth-graders has already tried marijuana;
• 1 of every 4 families has a member struggling with addiction; and
• 40 percent of U.S. high school seniors don't think heroin is too risky to try.
Tuesday evening's program included the group discussions, video presentation and a former heroin addict, who spoke to the audience candidly about his addiction. Zody Hershey told those in attendance that he has been in recovery for nine years, but he said that "there was a time when I knew that I had only three choices - to go to jail, to go to the cemetery or to go to rehab. I thank God I chose rehab." Hershey said that before he went into recovery, "I lied to and stole from everyone who cared about me, and it got to the point that I considered suicide, but I knew I just couldn't do that to my mother."
Center for Families staff members, aided by Fulton County Sheriff Keith Stains, Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. William Baker and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources officer Shawn Lynn, began the evening by handcuffing two volunteer teens together and asking them to break free of each other. When they couldn't do it, it was explained that their situation mimicked that of an addiction and that the only way they could be free of it is to ask for help.
Youths in attendance also had their photos taken that were then "morphed" into how they would likely look after years of drug abuse.
Fulton County District Attorney Travis Kendall kicked off the skit by saying that a huge percentage of the crimes he prosecutes "have drugs and/or alcohol as their root cause."
The skit moved from the courtroom over to the sheriff's office, where the teen actor, Kenny Trail, was fingerprinted, handcuffed and put in a holding cell. The group then moved to the downstairs hall of the courthouse where a makeshift emergency room was set up. The audience watched as the teen actor was pronounced dead of an overdose, and the scene then moved back to the courtroom for the funeral, where the audience experienced the pain and grief of the teen's parents, portrayed by Mike and Kathy Kennedy. As the funeral begins, the teen's voice can be heard saying, "Once I was just like you."
At the conclusion of the program, teens in attendance were given the opportunity to trace their hand on a banner and sign their names as a promise to stay drug-free.
The Reality Tour will be presented quarterly in Fulton County and the next presentation will be held on December 16, 2008. Interested parents and their children and those interested in volunteering may register by calling 717-485-4417.