Northeast Signature Program Fights Addiction Through The Human Experience

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In the halls of Northeast High School weeks before Halloween last year, a grim scene brought visitors to the door of the opioid epidemic.

Kids slumped against the walls, unresponsive. Others, distraught, shuffled around a table after a party gone wrong. The House of Addictions was hard to witness, but that was the point. Even though the scenes were staged with student actors, the display sent a powerful message: this is the aftermath of addiction.

This year, Northeast is expanding the program, and the House of Addictions is just one part. Rebranded this year as The Human Experience, the display will be available to the public on October 11 from 5:00pm to 9:00pm at Marley Station Mall, which boasts a space larger than Northeast can accommodate. According to Jenn Wheeler with New Life Addiction Counseling & Mental Health Services, last year’s event sold 200 tickets in 10 minutes.

“Kids don’t start using drugs, by and large, for no reason,” Wheeler said. “There’s a lot of anxiety and depression. What makes students feel that way and makes them want to numb their feelings? It’s academic overload, not making the team, the pressure of their peers.”

The goal of The Human Experience is to teach youth how to cope with those feelings and fears. Having lost her sons Ryan and Matt to addiction, Denise Williams feels inspired to partner with Northeast again this year to make sure other Pasadena teens don’t become victims.

“The kids face academic overload, problems on social media, and body changes — that stuff led my one son to self-medicate,” Williams said. “He was depressed and didn’t want to talk about it. He had anxiety and didn’t want to talk about it.”

Williams, Wheeler, and the Northeast staff want kids to talk about their problems before it’s too late. By showing them the possible outcome of addiction, the adults hope to intervene.

The display will include a central booking center replica, a 30-day treatment room, an emergency room and a funeral scene. Despite the dark subject matter, Wheeler said, the experience closes with positive affirmations.

Northeast students will continue to serve as actors, portraying addiction and grief. Students from Northeast and other high schools will be bussed to Marley Station Mall for the event, which community members are encouraged to attend as well.

Tickets are free at the door. For more information, contact Northeast’s Signature Program facilitator, Brandi Dorsey, at bldorsey@aacps.org.

“Northeast High School is in or backyard,” Wheeler said. “The epidemic is right here. People are still using, they’re still numbing the pain, and we have to continue to educate. We have to start with our youth. We tell them, ‘You’re not alone.’ We show them there are resources out there: mental health services, crisis response, social workers and more.”

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