A girl hesitates, and then pops the pills that are in her hands. A boy brawls with his drunken stepfather. Another boy, sick in English class, collapses and vomits as he tries to leave his seat.
These are snippets in the lives of heroin and opioid addicts, and those around them — family and friends — that a Linganore High School drama class will bring to life across Frederick County.
Julian Lazarus’ advanced theatrical production class intends to perform a play penned by the students in that class at every public high school in the county. It showcases the real stories of opioid addicts and the effects on those around them.
Linganore is one of four high schools across the state that will perform this type of outreach, a product of the state’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task force, led by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.
The task force contacted the Maryland State Department of Education, which reached out to drama teachers across the state.
“We have a very high percentage of young people who are affected with opioid and heroin addiction,” said Lazarus, the Linganore High drama teacher. “It’s a spreading epidemic throughout our school system. Not just Frederick County, throughout the state and throughout the country. Education is a way to stem that tide.”
Statewide, 887 deaths were related to opioids in 2014 alone, according to a May report from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The students in this particular class usually select the subject matter of a play they write and perform, but this isn’t a topic of their own volition, and it’s an intimidating one, said Abigail Weinel, an actress and one of the students who organized the play.
“Honestly, I was really surprised when I heard we were doing a show like this,” Weinel said. “Because I was not aware of this problem. To hear a problem that we’re totally unaware of, and do theater for a change, and try to make a change in our community, I was awestruck for a moment. We get to do something to help someone else through our passion.”
Each of the students was assigned different tasks, in addition to serving as actors in the show. Some compiled data on heroin and opioid deaths. Others sought out interviews with those influenced by drug addiction — the majority being online transcripts that the class could peruse. Some did come to speak to the class directly, including a woman whose son, a recovering heroin addict, died.
The mother told the students about how her son had recovered from heroin addiction, and he was attempting to help his friends get clean. But those same people spiked his soda with heroin and poison because they didn’t want him to interfere with their drug use.
After collecting statistics and stories, the class began to map out the scenes, which mimic the stories of addicts and their loved ones. Now, a week or so before they’re set to perform at Linganore for the first time, they’re stringing together these individual moments to create their work. The play opens with a support group, with each member of the group being fleshed out over the 45 minutes or so of the show.
Students Lincoln Robisch, also the artistic director, and Hugh Norko portray recovering addicts in the show, but they, along with Weinel, were quick to point out that many of the stories they focus on detail the effects of addiction on the drug abusers’ classmates, family, significant others and friends.
“There’s a lot of lying that happens, from the addict,” Norko said. “And a lot of disbelief from friends and family. I thought we did a pretty good job of incorporating that.”
Kylan Connolly, another student, said he was astonished how many parents were in denial about their children’s drug use — sometimes ignoring clear warning signs.
“They don’t want to believe their perfect child is abusing” drugs, he said.
Next semester, beginning at the end of January, the students hope to travel to every high school to perform their show through the rest of the school year. They will also perform once next Wednesday, at 7 p.m. Jan. 13, the performance is open to the public.