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If you change your mind: the video.

Read about how some Maryland students took charge of their drug education, and turned their experiences into an award-winning documentary.

The true meaning of drug addiction came to Kevin McMurphy when he was videotaping Ricky, a former addict who had shot someone for drug money.

You can see on the tape what Kevin means. Cut to Ricky, 19, his face hidden from view:

What went through my mind when I shot him? Believe it or not . . . I laughed at him. Inside, I felt kinda like, you know, "This is not me . . . ." But because my mind was so messed up, full of cocaine, I laughed--because I seen smoke come out of him and I thought that was funny.

"It was really shocking," says Kevin, remembering Ricky's story. "He just didn't seem like the kind of guy who could go off and shoot someone. The drugs had completely ruined his life."

That video clip is now part of a documentary that Kevin made with his classmates at the Eastern Intermediate School in Silver Spring, Maryland. The goal of the video is to teach other kids about the dangers of drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse plans to distribute the video to schools nationwide.

Their hope is that the video, made specifically for kids by kids, will help curb the growing problem that teens have with drugs. Last year, for example, a national survey found that the number of sixth-through eighth-graders experimenting with drugs like cocaine and LSD increased some 20 percent compared with the year before. Many teens just aren't getting the message that drugs can destroy their lives in a way that makes them care.

The teens who worked on the video, however, think they got the message. "In school, they tell you, 'This is the effect of this drug, it will make you feel this way, it will kill these brain cells,'" says Wendy Converse, one of Eastern's film-makers. "But to go out and hear actual people talking about how drugs hurt their lives, and see the research that people are doing firsthand," Wendy says--that really grabs your attention.

Listen to Mike, a 21-year-old who struggled for nearly 10 years with drug addiction:

Summer school of sixth grade I tried my first hit of marijuana. A friend turned me on to it ....

Then Mike got into using cocaine:

I started off doing a couple of lines, but [within eight months] I was doing a thousand dollars worth of cocaine a day. I overdosed a number of times. I'd get bloody noses and vomit up my food. I wouldn't sleep ....

My family tried to help me. I went through the detox thing and rehab, but the addictiveness of cocaine brought me back to the streets and using drugs in a couple of weeks. And it only took a couple of days of using to get me back in the hospital again, overdosed and having tubes running in and out of my body.

Cut to Shirlena, 22:

I had a girlfriend that introduced me to cocaine. She said, "Try this," and I did . . . Eventually I was put out of the place I was living and I started walking the streets . . . I ended up in an abandoned house, alone, prostituting to get high. One night, I called the police on myself [to get help] . . . What keeps me clean today is that I feel good about myself. And I don't ever want that kind of life again.

Those are the kind of messages--shock therapy, really--that have a chance of getting through to kids, says class member Randy Childs. He should know. He once had a drug problem himself. "You can learn from other people's mistakes," he says. "You don't have to make them yourself."

At first, Randy was skeptical about how the video would work, he says, because most of his classmates thought, "You've got to be a bad person to do drugs. They didn't see it like it could happen to anybody."

But the interviews with people like Ricky, Mike, and Shirlena changed that. They all came from good families, says student Kevin McMurphy. But they couldn't resist the peer pressure to experiment with drugs, or avoid the devastating mess the chemicals eventually made of their lives.

The students' experiences in working on the video also opened their minds to the science behind drug addiction.

"Before working on the video," says Jeremy Pfetsch, "I didn't know anything about how drugs change the brain." Then Jeremy met Dr. Charles Schuster of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Close-up of the doctor:

When you become addicted to drugs, you are a slave. You no longer have the freedom to walk away from them.

Why? Because drugs like cocaine destroy your ability to feel pleasure from anything other than the drug (see pp. 12-13). Imagine: None of the things that used to make you feel good--love, friendships, food--mean anything anymore. All you care about is getting high.

The Eastern students saw this for themselves in experiments.

At the University of Richmond in Virginia and the Yerkes Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, they watched how animals reacted to drugs.

Cut to a video image of a monkey in a cage. Over and over it presses a lever to receive a dose of a drug.

At the beginning of the documentary project, some of the students were upset that so much drug abuse research was conducted on animals. But what they saw at the labs gave them another perspective.

The students learned that the research would help scientists understand how drugs work--and how to help the addicts who get hooked on them. "And the animals seemed to be very well treated," remembers Wendy Converse. "We even had to wear masks because the scientists didn't want us bringing any germs in."

In the end, the scientists even let the students film the experiments--more footage for the documentary.

Now the students had a problem. They'd filmed some 15 hours of experiments and interviews with recovering addicts, scientists, social workers, nurses, and doctors. But their documentary had to be just 30 minutes. What to leave out?

Somehow they made the tough choices--and it took "only" nine or ten revisions of the script!

Do they think all the hard work was worth it? Will the finished product really help teens resist the temptations to use drugs?

"I hope so," says Eastern student Mari Costanzo. "After all," she says, "it gives knowledge--and that's power."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related information; drug education technique
Author:McNulty, Karen
Publication:Science World
Date:Apr 2, 1993
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