DEA Launches A 'Virtual Field Trip' To Educate Teens About Drugs

By David Konow 11/03/16

The program will provide teens with the cold hard scientific facts about drugs and addiction. 

DEA Launches A 'Virtual Field Trip' To Educate Teens About Drugs

While there are many ways to warn young people about drugs, some of these messages can come across as heavy-handed and over-the-top, and often don’t resonate with someone until they experience addiction themselves.

Now, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is trying to show people the potential horrific effects of addiction by mixing science along with the emotional and personal toll of drugs, into what’s being called a “virtual field trip.”

As the Washington Post reports, the project was launched last month by Chuck Rosenberg, acting administrator of the DEA. Rosenberg admitted to the Post that when he tries to talk to young adults about addiction, he's usually met with skepticism. “I’ve seen people roll their eyes at me," he said. "Whenever someone tells you to do something you don’t want to do, there’s going to be cynicism and skepticism.”

So in late October, he launched a new approach, by focusing on the science of opioid abuse. The program, called Operation Prevention, first debuted at McLean High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, where a class was treated to a panel discussion with a scientist, a recovering drug user, and a DEA agent. The event was broadcast to 200,000 students across the country.

Beyond the scientific evidence Operation Prevention provides, apparently it was the personal firsthand account of a drug user that resonated the most with students. The young adults taking the virtual field trip were first warned against painkillers, which Rosenberg says is usually the gateway drug for four out of five heroin addicts.

A Georgetown University professor on the panel cautioned students that when they start taking opioids, “What you’re doing is rewiring that part of the brain that makes decisions for you.” Then a recovering drug user named Brittney Sabock, 25, told the audience that once she became addicted to heroin, “it took away every dream and aspiration I ever had.”

While the teenagers who watched the program gave it mixed reviews, for one student, Sabock's story hit home. “It’s much more personal than getting it on a PowerPoint presentation and taking notes and taking a quiz about it,” said McLean freshman Sophia Shiells. 

The virtual field trip was also tough for Ellen Reilly, the principal of McLean High, because several years ago a McLean student died after taking heroin for the first time. (When interviewed by the Post, Reilly still couldn’t talk about it three years after the fact.)

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.