Harford County law enforcement, education and government leaders are starting a new round of community events this week to get the word out to county residents, especially the youth, about the dangers of heroin addiction.
A four-show run of the original production, "Addicted," started at North Harford High School in Pylesville Thursday night. The play, which was written and directed by North Harford school psychologist Christle Henzel and stars North Harford students and alumni, shows how drug addiction affects not only the user, but also the person's friends and family .
"It tells the true impact of alcohol and drug abuse on the individual, the relationships," Joe Ryan, county drug control policy administrator, said Thursday afternoon.
Ryan noted he saw "Addicted" performed at North Harford two years ago, and his office is working this year to make the play a county-wide event.
"I saw the power in it, so let's make it a community event and spread the word out to all; the other schools, the other communities," he said.
The play also will be put on Friday at the high school and then March 11 and 12 at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church off Route 22 east of Bel Air. Admission is free and all showings start at 7 p.m.
Henzel dedicated Thursday's showing to her late brother, Jason, who struggled with drug addiction.
"It is through his loss that I am inspired to fight and challenged this epidemic," she said.
Henzel asked members of Thursday's audience to raise their hands if they have been affected by a loved one's struggle with drug or alcohol addiction, and most did.
"Look around, most of us have been impacted in some way," Henzel said.
Members of the Dick family, of White Hall, were among those who raised their hands. Melissa Dick said after the show that it is ultimately up to an addict to get help, not his or her friends or relatives.
"Unless they decide that they want the help, you're just the enabler," she said.
Dick attended the play with her husband, David, and their 15-year-old daughter, Audrey, who is a freshman at North Harford.
She did not specify who her family knows who dealt with drug addiction, though.
"Until they decide to get better, you're at a standstill," Dick said. "It's heartbreaking."
The play is a series of monologues by three people in their early 20s who are addicts, as well as monologues from actors portraying their friends, parents, siblings and significant others, who describe in wrenching detail, the pain that the addicts they love are putting them through.
Jessica, who is addicted to prescription drugs, is played by North Harford junior Jill Nooney. Leif McCurry, who is also the assistant director, plays Dan, an alcoholic. Actor Ben Hill plays Alex, a heroin addict.
Audrey Dick said she enjoyed the play.
"I like that it was done in monologue," she said.
Audrey said she took away from the production that addiction cannot always be beaten.
"Even if you think you can, it's not always curable," she said.
Ryan said his Office of Drug Control Policy has "partnered with Christle [Henzel] to make this a community event."
He said Henzel "tweaks" the script each year, as "the addiction and the drug scene is constantly changing."
Ryan's office has been providing technical support and resources for marketing the play, such as getting word to all Harford County PTAs, as well as advertising and social media.
He noted a "busload" of students from the Joppatowne area is scheduled to travel to North Harford to see the play.
The production is recommended for children 13 and older "so they can comprehend the material and the message that's being sent."
"There's no cursing," Ryan said, stressing the play doesn't have explicit content, "that doesn't prove anything."
"It's just what happens to the individual when they become addicted to drugs and alcohol," he continued.
A number of community meetings have been held at schools around the county since last fall to educate children and adults about the dangers of heroin, a deadly drug that has claimed three lives through overdoses this year, as of Feb. 1.
Twenty-seven people died from heroin overdoses in 2015, according to data from the Harford County Sheriff's Office.
A 12-person work group called HOPE – Heroin Overdose Prevention Effort – was formed through the Sheriff's Office last April, with members appointed by Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler.
The group will facilitate a presentation on heroin March 7 at Highland Presbyterian Church in Street, and HOPE's next work group meeting is scheduled for March 23, according to Sheriff's Office spokesperson Cristie Kahler.
At North Harford Thursday night, several displays about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco were set up outside the school auditorium.
Megan Murdock, who is an intern with the Office of Drug Control Policy, created a mock up of a teen's bedroom to show the many innocuous places where a youth could hide drugs from his or her parents.
They include things such as the protective cover for a smartphone or a small metal tube on a key chain, which can hold pills.
"They're getting smarter," Murdock said of young users. "They're hiding them in better places."
Murdock, who is a second-year graduate student at the University of Maryland School of Social Work in Baltimore, said many parents who saw the potential hiding places were shocked.
"They've said, 'Oh my gosh, I had no idea,'" Murdock said.
Katie Badders, a licensed clinical social worker with the drug control office, said some parents say they concerned about violating their children's privacy.
"We try to tell them that their child's safety is more important than their child's privacy," Badders, a 1994 North Harford graduate, explained. "If they feel something's wrong, follow that gut feeling and then take a closer look."
"I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of people that I know that went to school here, that are dead from drugs and alcohol," she said.