NORWICH — The story of a high school athlete who gets hooked on painkillers and then “graduates” to heroin served as the starting point for a discussion about the dangers of opioid abuse Wednesday at Norwich Free Academy.

The story played out on stage at Slater Auditorium in the form of several scenes performed by teen members of Looking In Theatre, a Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts program. The event was organized and sponsored by Norwich Youth and Family Services and the Norwich Prevention Council.

“We’re having a real issue, an epidemic of massive proportions with heroin and opioid overdoses,” Norwich Youth and Family Services Coordinator Angelo Callis said. “This is a prevention effort we’re working on.”

Callis said a 2015 survey showed for the first time prescription drug abuse among high school teens in Norwich surpassed alcohol and marijuana use.

“We feel that our kids in Norwich are at a heightened risk,” Callis said.

The performance showed how typical teens can fall into the trap of abusing prescription drugs that can spiral out of control.

Freddy, a soccer player, and his sister Maria are ignored by their alcoholic mother and while Maria attempts to keep the household in order, Freddy turns to painkillers after an injury. A teammate pressures him to take more before a big game and this leads to addiction. Freddy then turns to heroin to get high, and another school friend discovers him overdosing. He’s rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.

The brief story set the stage for the four teen actors involved, including two from Colchester, to answer audience questions while in character.

“I think we talk about it because it’s the taboo stuff that schools don’t usually talk about, so they invite us to talk about it,” Annaliese Ciarcia, 14, of Colchester, said. Ciarcia played Maria.

Performer Jomar Diaz, 17, of Hartford, said the mini-plays help to motivate frank discussion.

“A lot of the time people we perform for are people who have gone through the things we talk about,” he said. “They are able to be inspired to talk about the things they usually can’t talk about.”

Joining the conversation was a slate of local professionals who see the everyday effects of the opioid crisis. They included Christopher Kolker, the medical director for United Community and Family Services, American Ambulance paramedic and Director of Quality Assurance Glenn Arremony, Joshua Center attending psychiatrist Muhammad Hassan Majeed and Norwich Police Sgt. John Perry, the Community Policing Unit supervisor.

Also taking part were Katherine Rose, who is in recovery from substance abuse and is a member of Bully Busters, and Lisa Cote Johns, a Montville woman who co-founded Community Speaks Out after the death of her son, Christopher, from addiction.

Kiera Burlingame McCord, 14, a Young Marine from Norwich, said she enjoyed the unique way the message was delivered.

“I also enjoyed listening to (the actors) as people, not as characters, and their perspective. I learned a lot of new things and I’m glad I came,” she said. “I want to do something to help and now I feel like I can.”


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