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Theater troupe talks straight about heroin, meth

Actor Darius Dotch (portraying a high school student with meth at a party) recites his own “Ode to Meth” to Kayla (played by Briana Patnode) and her friend, Jen (played by Siddeeqah Shabazz) during a Feb. 27 performance in the gym at the Fond du Lac Ojibwe school. Although the girls are not tempted by his poems or his drugs, Kayla hits a rough patch when her boyfriend breaks up with her and impulsively tries some of the drug, and it’s a quick downhill slide from there. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal

When CLIMB Theatre actors came to the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School Feb. 27, they came with serious faces and a serious message: Don’t ever take heroin or methamphetamine. Addiction to these drugs can be almost instant and is difficult to overcome. Even good kids make bad choices, but choosing to take these two drugs could be the most difficult choice to reverse.

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Moving between three platforms, first the actors from the educational theater troupe hit the assembled students with a barrage of facts about both drugs while slides with statistics or photos of people showing the side effects of the drugs were projected onto a white background.

Three different actors addressed the audience, taking turns, starting with street names for both drugs. Meth is also known as Crystal, Ice, Crank, Glass, Speed and The Devil’s Drug. Heroin — a drug that is making a comeback across the country, in many cases because it’s easier to get than prescription opiates like Oxycodin — goes by names such as H, Chiva, Horse, Smake, ska, junk, skag and Thunder.

They talked about the ingredients for meth: lye, drain openers like Draino, paint thinner, rubbing alcohol, sulfuric acid.

“Most meth is now produced not in labs, but in two-liter soda bottles,” Actor  Z told the crowd of rapt students. “Called ‘shake and bake,’ this method takes only an hour. Ingredients can be carried in a backpack and meth users frequently make meth while driving around in their cars. Then, they just throw the used plastic bottles, containing a poisonous brown and white sludge, along the highway.”

Actor Y takes over, noting that authorities suggest people who find discarded bottles containing an unknown mixture to leave them alone and call the police instead.

“The new shake and bake labs put everyone in danger, because they are very highly flammable and can explode at any time, even while the drug users are driving around, obviously putting themselves and other drivers in danger,” Actor Z said.

The feelings a user experiences the first time he or she takes either meth or heroin “make the user feel fine beyond anything they have ever felt before,” Actor Y said, explaining how both drugs tap into the brain’s pleasure and reward center, causing the release of dopamine.

Meth users often feel energetic and euphoric, confident and talkative. However, that high — which can last up to half a day — is followed by a crash that leaves the user very depressed and, consequently, wanting to get high again.

Heroin makes users feel relaxed and peaceful … although they may also feel nauseous, vomit, itch or have a very dry mouth, on top of cloudy thinking and slowed and shallow breathing.

“Meth and heroin are two of the most addictive substances known,” Actor Z told the crowd. “Users will keep using these substances to try to recreate that very first rush. But no amount of heroin or meth will ever reproduce the first rush. What meth will eventually do is change your brain chemistry so you feel afraid and hostile, moody and are less able to feel pleasure or think or behave rationally.”

For those students who weren’t immediately convinced by the onslaught of chilling facts about the two drugs, five CLIMB actors showed them the story of two different teenagers — one a straight-A female student , Kayla who wants to go to college and be a writer, the other a basketball star, Chris, who finds her diary when he goes to the emergency room for a turned ankle.

Kayla’s story unfolds inside of Chris’ story, as he reads portions of her diary, learning how she takes meth for the first time at a party after her long-time boyfriend dumps her over the phone, then how quickly she goes from straight-As to skipping school, stealing from friends and family and lying to everyone who cares about her.

Chris understands, the audience learns, because he has been to treatment for heroin three different times. Clean for the moment, he must constantly resist old friends who call to invite him for one last high.

Most dramatic is the different “Ode to Meth” poems Kayla recites: a jubilant, happy poem after the first time she takes meth, “I want to live in this moment forever,” to her final poem, about the “abyss” of meth.

There is no happy ending. Chris relapses after his new friend confronts him about his past and Kayla seems like a lost cause, insisting repeatedly that she won’t ever use again but then using, ending up in jail. We see both their parents learn that they can’t control their child’s addiction, and make the difficult choice to protect another child, or protect themselves.

While the play might strike older watchers or the uninitiated as something that students from outstate Minnesota would never encounter, SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) member Naazhe Laprairie said she wasn’t shocked by the play.

“I’ve seen stuff like that,” said the 14-year-old, adding that she’s heard or known of older kids who have taken heroin or meth “just trying to be adults.”

“I think it’s dealing with a lot of the things we’ve been talking about with SADD,” she added. “It would definitely make someone think twice.”

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