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High School Drug Play Breaks Barriers

One high school practices a more nuanced approach to drugs that might just work.

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By Joe Schrank

12/05/11

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While tired versions of Bye Bye Birdie may represent the limit of ambition for many high school theater departments, Oak Ridge High in suburban Sacramento chose a different route. A cutting edge play called Addict tells the tales of ten characters who become involved in the drug world. They all die. The message “Hey kids, drugs are bad!” is nothing new, but the chance to examine the issues is welcome. However, it's the support network surrounding the play that's really groundbreaking. The school held a post performance Q&A with drug professionals and all kinds of relevant resources were available. And the public high school's drug policy matches its willingness to perform an unconventional performance: “I hope the students take away an understanding that drug abuse is a community problem and they have adults around them who care about their well being and are willing to help,” Principal Steve Wehr tells The Fix, in a rather more nuanced message than “Just say no.”

Shunning the more common culture of fear, Principal Wehr has no random drug screening system, nor does Oak Ridge High employ drug-sniffing dogs to investigate suspect lockers. There are several drug-related programs: P.A.R.T.Y (Prevent Alcohol and Related Trauma in Youth) is an exercise that illustrates the often-lethal outcome of drinking and driving. And there may not be an AA meeting on campus, but there is the “New Morning” program, consisting of peer support guided by a mental health professional. High School is a tricky culture for adolescents to negotiate, and that's multiplied for anyone who crosses the line from partying to pathology. Fear and secrecy never help, and Wehr encourages students to come forward with any concerns. “There are multitudes of concerned people ready to help,” he says. Nancy Regan has nothing on him.

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