As published on BehavioralHealthCentral.com
By Norma Norris, Executive Director CANDLE, Inc.
Caption: Dr. Jeffrey David, OB/GYN, Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, played role of grieving father in original Butler Reality Tour.
Every medical professional witnesses the effects of addiction on patients. Many agonize how addiction destroys families, fuels crime, changes neighborhoods and imperils our youth.
Many professionals are discovering a way to make a difference. The grassroots Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program has been growing county by county since 2004, aided by healthcare volunteers. The consequence-driven, parent/child program started in Butler 2003. It organizes existing community resources to present the real story of addiction.
Neil Capretto, D.O., Medical Director at Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Beaver County, recognizes the collaborative benefits, “One of the many strengths of Reality Tour is that it brings together drug and alcohol treatment providers, schools, churches, businesses, hospitals, police and the legal system. They network through this program to improve the life and health of youth.”
Reality Tour opens with brief dramatic scenes narrated by a ‘teen on drugs’ that involve the audience. Q & A sessions with police and a recovering addict offer insight. The tempo changes as parent/child learn coping skills and experience a revealing self-discipline test. Adults rate it as ‘priceless’ and a follow-up study shows 80% of youth are still working on prevention goals after three months.
CANDLE, Inc., is the Butler non-profit that oversees Reality Tour. Executive Director and developer Norma Norris recalls that, “The program took off by itself in 2003. We quickly had a 2-month waiting list. Soon other communities wanted to replicate it. Parents everywhere are eager to protect their children. Now over 25 communities are licensed.”
Healthcare professionals are key players according to Norris, “Dr. Jeffrey David and his wife Jan played the role of grieving parents for years. Butler Ambulance provided ER props and sends EMT’s monthly. Butler Memorial Hospital and Highmark were supportive.” Over 5,000 Butler residents have attended and all eight county school districts are involved.
Volunteers like VA Pharmacist Tiffany Kimmerle continue to step forward, “I truly feel Reality Tour can change a teenager’s mind about using drugs. Helping a program that has the ability to change lives, and probably save lives is most rewarding.”
County by county replications continued. Armstrong County Memorial Hospital joined with ARC Manor and District Attorney Scott Andreassi in 2005. Originally, six programs per year were planned but demand requires a monthly frequency.
In Westmoreland County, Excela Health plays a primary role. R.N. Tina Bobnar and her family manage the ER scene along with Scot Ritenour. Nurse Educator Sheri Walker recalls, “Excela Health sent an e-mail requesting volunteers. I was interested because I have seen the devastating effects of addiction when I worked in Labor and Delivery. The numbers of addicted moms was on the rise.” Her daughter Liza, who lost a classmate to an overdose, volunteered too declaring, “Mom, we have to do this!”
The parent/child approach appeals to Walker, “What impressed me the most and still does, is the focus on communication between parent and child. The program is not, “just say no,” but is more about, “these are some ideas for how to say no.” Reaching children before they start experimenting with drugs is why I believe in this program. Youth who attend have a chance to make an informed decision.”
Research by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy shows the Reality Tour does increase parent/child communication. Youth also report an increase in their perception of harm associated with drugs.
Norris underscores that, “The program is for the general public. Prevention has the best outcome when introduced early. A MetLife study shows a marked increase nationally for youth in grades 9-12, with 38% reporting past 30 day drug/alcohol use.”
While Western PA leads the state with 13 Reality Tour sites, Eastern PA healthcare providers are taking notice. Geisinger Medical Center, Wayne Memorial Hospital and the Child Death Review Team in Pike County are involved. Norris hopes to organize the whole state and has sights on Allegheny County next. Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Vermont will also start programs in 2010.
Any community is just 90 days away from a Reality Tour. Training is facilitated with the aid of CANDLE’s detailed manual and volunteer workshop on DVD. More information and newsletter signup is available at www.RealityTour.org. Or contact Norma at 724-679-1788 to arrange a teleconference.
By SARAH ZAPLOTSKY
Eagle Staff Writer BUTLER - The woman in the purple coat shook as she watched her son die. At the funeral, trails of mascara-laden tears streaked down her cheeks. She clutched her husband's hand, trying to make sense of the death. The woman, Jan David, may have only been acting, but her performance was so realistic it jolted the audience of this months Reality Tour, a dramatic presentation of the life of a heroin addict.
STEVEN DIETZ/SPECIAL TO THE EAGLE
In a mock emergency room scene at the Butler County YMCA, nurse Hally Callithen comforts Jeffery and Jan David, who find that efforts to save their son from a drug overdose were not successful. The scene is part of the Reality Tour, a dramatic presentation of the life of a herion addict. The tour is an effort by reality Tour, a nonprofit group that supports actions of community drug agencies, to combat the ongoing heroin problem in the county.
Faced with the continuing problem of heroin use in the county, the Reality Tour, a non-profit group that supports actions of community drug agencies, organized the program under the direction of board member Norma Norris. The tour is at the Butler County YMCA and begins with a typical teen skit depicting peer presure that can lead students to experiment with drugs.
The tour then becomes decidedly realistic.
The group leaves the YMCA and takes a short walk to the Butler County Prison. While en route, the audience witnesses a mock arrest of a heroin addict.
During the Jan.19 tour, all stared as a city police officer threw the suspect against the squad car and handcuffed him. The audience walked by, some unsure whether the incident was staged.
Norris, creator of the program, said the purpose of the dramatic scenes is to show families, especially children ages 10 to 13, the ugly life of a heroin addict. Audience sizes are keep small, only 70 people at most, to give the group more flexibility and create an intimate setting.
Norris said people experience more of an emotional impact in smaller groups with fewer distractions. Since the monthly programs began in June, more than 500 people have participated.
"I thought if children saw what the life was really like, they would not become involved with it." she said.
Children and parents get a strong dose of reality when the doors of the county prison clang shut behind them. Once inside, the prisoner booking procedures are explained and the interlopers are shown jail cells, a visitation room, and even a padded isolation room.
Returning to the YMCA, the group is ushered into a mock emergency room, complete with heart monitor and a blue-lipped victem. The parents rush into the room, only to watch as their son is pronounced dead.
The audience then shares the parents' grief at the funeral home, where friends pay their respects in front of a closed casket.
Some audience members were visibly shaken after the tour, blowing their noses and holding back tears.
The reality of the tour was confirmed by a county Detective Pat Cannon, who is the coordinator of the county's drug task force. He said heroin use apears to be leveling off from previous years. Last year, the task force made between 90 and 100 drug related arrests.
However, he said heroin is still "an epidemic" in the county because it is being used by a younger age group, specifically teenagers.
He told the Reality Tour audience that unlike drug waves in the past, few heroin dealers are from outside the county.
"We've had to completely shift how we do investigations. Our kids are selling to our kids." He said.
According to county coroner's reports, in 2002, 12 people died of heroin use. The average age of death was 26, and the youngest was 16.
There were 13 drug-related deaths in 2003, at an average age of 25. All but one were male, and the youngest was 18.
2 tell their story
Cannon did not speak long before he introduced Kristina, 19, and Kelli, both recovering heroin addicts who speak to groups about their addiction. The women were introduced by their first names only. Both grew up in the county and began exper- menting with drugs and alcohol while in high school. Kristina first started drinking when she was 12 years old. A neighbor she was baby- sitting for would pay her with beer and then watch her get drunk for fun. Her porcelain - like skin belie the fact her drinking eventually led to drug use and heroin, which is an extremely addictive opiate. She said she stole money from family and freinds to support her habit and was eventually arrested. "You do anything you have to do to get your high." Because of her drug-related crimes, Kristina is on ten years' probation.
As part of the Reality Tour for parents and their children, Knoch High School student Josh Falcon, 15, portrays a heroin addict being arrested by a Butler police officer in the Butler parking garage. Since the monthly program began in June, more than 500 people have viewed the dramatic skit, which is intended to show the ugly life of a heroin addict.
After abusing a buffet of drugs, through her late teens and early 20's, Kelli discovered heroin and the euphoric high experienced when the drug is injected into the bloodstream. Her habit expolded to 20 to 30 doses, or stamps, a day, which cost her between $200 and $300. She said at one time during a two-month period, she charged more than $18,000 to her mother's credit card.
Eventually, she found herself homeless and penniless in Washington Pa., where she was willing to do anything to feed her habit.
"Being an addict is a full time job." she said.
Kelli is on probation for 16 years.
The women find it therapeutic to tell others their experiences. They agreed they wanted to help others avoid mistakes, but the storytelling also keeps the reality of usage foremost in their minds.
"It helps keep the whole thing fresh." said Kelli.
That is important, said Cannon, since the women have an 85 percent chance of relapsing.
If either are arrested again, she will be jailed in a state, not county facility.
In spite of the perceived leveling off of the overall drug use problem, Cannon said it is still dire.
Cannon said he favors random drug testing in schools as long as assurances could be made that testing would not target one group of students over another. Although he believes county school districts still aren't doing enough to protect students, he said they are doing better than they had in previous years.
"They didn't know this was coming; no one knew. We certainly were caught off guard." he said.
Butler School District has a long-standing drug and alcohol programs that have been augmented by more aggressive measures to counteract the drug problem in recent years.
According to Jim Allen, junior high school principal, three to four times a year state police canine units sweep the district with dogs trained to find illegal substances. In the three years the sweeps have been conducted, no illegal substances have been found.
He said parents generally cooperate with district programs designed to identify students who may be using drugs, although many initially deny their children are involved.
"Some throw up a wall, but many are now more supportive." he said.
Diane Snyder, the school board vice president, said community awareness of the heroin problem seems to have increased, and parents are now more willing to work with school officials.
Prior to 2003, I sat in expulsion hearings where the parents said they have held parties at their houses and did drugs with the kids. And those parents couldn't figure out why we had a problem with that." she said.
Families still suffer
The Reality Tour also depicts family anguish that is all too real.
Shirley Domhoff, whose daughter is a recovering heroin addict, lives with the pain everyday. Like Kelli and Kristine, Domhoff's daughter began experimenting with alcohol, pain pills and marijuana in high school, where she once was a good student and athlete.
Domhoff, who requested her daughter not be named in this article, said she initially blamed herself when she found out about her daughter's usage just before the Christmas of 1999.
"It hasn't been a fun ride." she said, her face etched with pain.
Since her discovery, Domhoff has joined a support group for parents of addicts. She said there is a limit to the amount of help that can be given.
"Parents can only do so much. Schools can only do so much." she said.
Nancy Edwards agreed. She is a volunteer with Reality Tour, and her son, Mark, is a recovering heroin addict.
Edwards said Mark was 15 when she found out about his heroin use. She said she helped him at her home for five days as his body went through withdrawal, an especially painful experience for heroin addicts. Edwards bluntly described her son's struggle with heroin, her brown eyes full of sorrow.
She said she would continue to help him, but the decision to quit was ultimately his.
"I didn't show him how (to use drugs)." she said. "He chose. It was his choice."
It is this choice that Reality Tour aims to help parents and children understand.
And the word seems to be spreading.
Norris said the tours have filled. As of december, there was a two-month waiting period to get on the audience list. The next tours are Feb. 16 and March 15.
Norris said she thinks the tours have been successful because the problem is widespread and it cuts across all social and economic barriers.
She said the demand for a place on the tour is high because people are looking for information and help.
"The success of this is a blessing and a curse at the same time." she said.
To learn more
Where you can get help:
Ministries of Eden, 724-285-5842
Irene Stacy CMH Center, 724-287-0791
Gateway North Hills, 724-776-4844
Ellen O'Brien Gaiser Addiction Center, 724-285-2297 or 724-287-8205
Family First Resource Center, 724-284-4357
Butler County Drug Task Force, 724-284-5225
By John Enrietto
Eagle Sports Editor
The Karns City High School football team made history Monday night (August 18) — and it had nothing to do with touchdowns or championships.
The Gremlins became the first complete athletic team from Butler County to attend the Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program offered by non-profit organization CANDLE, Inc., at the Butler YWCA.
Thirty Karns City players took a bus to the reality tour, meeting up with their parents following practice Aug. 11. The other 30 on the roster took the tour Monday night.
The three-hour program included watching a staged arrest, emergency room and funeral scene, visiting the Butler County Prison, hearing talks from two George Junior Republic students in recovery from addiction and a man whose daughter died from drug abuse at age 25.
“We’ve had kids busted at our school,” KC football coach and principal Ed Conto said. “This is a real issue. It’s out there. Be scared of it.
“Don’t dismiss the signs ... It’s heartbreaking.”
Conto said that during the past 10 years, a handful of former Karns City students and/or football players have died from alcohol or drug abuse within five years after their graduation.
“I’ve been coaching football for 30 years and haven’t lost a player yet to a natural death or a military death,” Conto said. “So what’s killing our youth? Drugs.
“We use football as an educational tool. We’re working with the kids and parents to educate them about this stuff. We need to beat this.”
Norma Norris developed the Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program at the YWCA and the program is in its 11th year. She estimates the program has reached more than 10,000 Butler County residents.
“It’s fantastic that an entire high school football team is here. Hopefully, others will follow suit,” Norris said.
Retired Grove City football coach Jeff Bell had his team attend a private Reality Tour presentation, arranged through the Grove City Rotary, last year.
“The purpose of this program is to demonstrate just how real this experience can be,” Norris said of drug addiction. “The point driven home to the kids by the addict is that he was just like them. And at one point, he was.”
Among statistics presented during the program were that 48 percent of all seniors will have tried an illicit drug by the time they graduate, 25 percent of teens have been offered drugs in school, 6.2 percent of high school seniors have tried meth and 16 percent of all parents have been drunk or abused drugs in front of their children.
A video about new drugs being abused by youths was shown. Gasoline and cleaning fluids were among elements used in the mixing of the drugs.
“Some of the household items used in the making of these drugs ... I would have never guessed,” KC football parent Loretta Sacco said. “It’s scary.”
Sacco added that the drug prevention program “needs to be experienced by kids 12 or 13, even more than high school kids.”
One player said he “will never try drugs, knowing now what they’re made of,” after attending the program. Another admitted that he knows teammates who have at least dabbled in drugs.
“We tell them they (drugs) are no good for them and we try to straighten them out,” he said. “As a team, we have some influence on each other. We have each other’s backs.”
Another player said he “just has to stay strong as a person and avoid those bad situations.”
Each player traced his hand-print on a canvas during the reality tour, vowing not to try drugs.
Kim Buck, another KC football mother, was happy to see the Gremlins attend the reality program as a team.
“Definitely worthwhile,” she said. “Credit goes to Ed for bringing the whole group. The kids will talk to each other about this now. Hopefully, they’ll make a pact together that they’re not going to do (drugs).
“Those statistics they showed, some of them were shocking to me. There’s a lot of naivete out there about drugs. I know this night woke me up.”
In 2000 when heroin made headlines in Butler, PA there weren’t any prevention programs to help parents. Since 2003 a grassroots parent/child interactive program called Reality Tour has filled that gap. You may have never heard of it because the small non-profit CANDLE, Inc. (Community Action for Drug-free Lifestyle Empowerment), that oversees Reality Tour can’t afford to advertise.
Reality Tour is the brainchild of Norma Norris, a lifelong Butler resident. After learning that high school students were experimenting with heroin and other drugs, Norma became extremely concerned. She interviewed a teen, whose best friend was addicted. The young man shared that he didn’t get caught up in drugs because he could always “See beyond the next 10 minutes” of his life. Norris couldn’t get that phrase out of her mind. The teen’s recognition that his life was about choices resonated with her. Norma came
up with Reality Tour as a way to help all young people and parents ‘See beyond the next 10 minutes’. The program is fast-paced and intense, addressing ill-fated consequences in brief yet realistic scenes, teaching family coping skills and ending in a Q & A session with a teen in recovery. All is condensed in a powerful 2 ½ hr. session.
Most of us already know educated parents are the most powerful prevention tool. This program adds extra impact, by including children. The whole family leaves on the same page. Reality Tour’s profound effect is best expressed by a dad who exclaimed, “These could be the most important hours I ever spend with my son” and a 12 yr. old who wrote, “I am leaving here a different person. I didn’t know drugs are that bad!” Seneca Valley School District is in their 6th year of partnership with Reality Tour. Superintendent Dr. Tracey Vitale repeatedly hears parents praise the program and is confident that it is a “deterrent in this never-ending battle.” Norris adds that, “Strong school partnerships are key to our success.”
Rarely does a grassroots effort, such as Reality Tour go mainstream, but a 2007 grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation, funded research by the University of Pittsburgh that took it from grassroots to science. The recipient of two national awards, Reality Tour is now a research-based program model that any community can adopt to help families “See beyond the next 10 minutes.” It could be an answer to Pennsylvania’s newly proposed prevention strategy that seeks innovation, “Service clubs like Rotary and Lions could blanket our state with this prevention model in a year at no cost to state government.”
Westmoreland County leads with six sites, thanks in part to the Norwin Lions Club, Latrobe Rotary, Mt. Pleasant Judge Roger Eckels & ‘Mayor of the Year’ Jerry Lucia, Pastor Dan Lawrence of Murrysville, and residents Mary Ann Musick and Celeste Palamara. In Elk County, Lois Cheatle single-handedly raised $3500 this year to start the program. Allegheny County’s first site just started in Glassport. Butler County has 2 sites . An Alcoa Foundation grant supported development of six sites. Norris is on a mission to add Greene, Fayette and Washington Counties next.
Reality Tour has grown beyond a grassroots movement to include replicated sites in six other states and Canada impacting over 50,000 people. The website http://www.RealityTour.org lists all locations.
Funding is scarce, yet CANDLE needs a way to inspire more Reality Tours and conduct the next layer of research. “I know a sponsor could take this statewide or even nationwide. A university could step up to do the next layer of research.” In the meantime, CANDLE’s immediate goal is to attract a base of 100 monthly credit card donors via their website http://www.RealityTour.org. It is fitting that while CANDLE is ‘spreading its wings’ their office is located in Monarch Place 100 Brugh Ave. in Butler.
TO VOLUNTEER OR START A PROGRAM: 724-679-1788 · NormaNorris@candleinc.org.
CANDLE, Inc. gratefully acknowledges the support of Russell Cersosimo who made this article possible.
John Enrietto, sports editor of the Butler Eagle--Column from Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014
The statistics are staggering. Hearing them is like receiving a sudden slap in the face.
It wakes you up.
Forty-eight percent of all high school seniors will have at least tried an illicit drug by the time they graduate.
Eleven percent of all eighth-graders have used marijuana in the past year.
There are 7,898 new drug users every day in this country. More than half of them are under 18.
Twenty-five percent of all teenagers have been offered or sold some type of drug in school.
There’s more numbers out there, but you get the point.
We’re dealing with a crisis here that we need to be proactive about.
Kudos to Karns City High School principal and head football coach Ed Conto, who was certainly proactive in bringing his entire team to a three-hour Reality Tour Drug Prevention program recently in Butler.
Every coach of every high school sports team should do the same.
It’s well worth the time.
Parents and kids get educated about drug abuse at the same time. They see dramatic scenes that show the consequences of using drugs, whether it be a prison or death sentence.
The program shows how some drugs are made and what some of their contents are.
It gives kids the opportunity to hear the stories of former drug abusers now in recovery, as well as hearing from a parent who saw his child die from drug abuse.
When a team attends a program like this together, it bonds them together that much more. They will openly talk about the issue among themselves and have each other’s backs, just like they do on the field.
Athletes are often looked upon as leaders in the school. Having those leaders educated about drug abuse can only help the general school population.
Sports are often considered a microcosm of life.
Even pro athletes who have everything, their lives completely set up financially and in terms of prestige, can get tangled up in this stuff.
Just a few days ago, Steeler running backs Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount were caught with marijuana in a vehicle — just two weeks before the start of the NFL season.
Are these guys really that foolish? Maybe they’re hooked on it. Marijuana is addictive, after all, and can lead to other drugs.
It’s not called the “gateway drug” for nothing.
If a pro athlete with everything to lose is willing to do drugs, what’s to stop a junior high or high school kid from succumbing to peer pressure or his own curiosity?
Knowing the dangers and consequences of it and having a bunch of teammates on his side wouldn’t hurt.
The volunteers working these reality drug prevention tours deeply care about our youths.
Coaches and school administrators should care enough to hear their message.