If you were watching the Today Show last Friday, you might have seen some familiar faces, as a story about a new musical designed to get teens really thinking and talking about opioids featured Community High School. Earlier this fall Community students got the chance to be the first high schoolers to see Painless: The Opioid Musical.
It was appropriate that the musical premiered for students at Community, since it was a conversation University of Michigan Anesthesiology Professor Chad Brummett had several years ago with students there that led to the creation of the musical. In talking about the dangers of opioids Brummett asked students if they could get their hands on opioids within an hour. In line with national statistics, about 75 percent of the students said they could.
To make a real difference Brummett wanted to be able to meet students where they are when talking about opioids, so the University of Michigan and Michigan OPEN (Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network) commissioned the creation of a short educational musical with the goal of educating high schoolers about the dangers of opioid abuse.
The musical itself is based on true stories shared by members of Families Against Narcotics, about the challenges they faced due to opioid addiction. Jacob Ryan Smith wrote the musical while he was a student at the University of Michigan. He says he turned to music to try to capture some of the emotion shared in these powerful and difficult stories. “The way that we can recreate that energy without having the lived experience, without having the entire history that David has had of experiencing it, recovering it, coming back from it, talking about it and nurturing forgiveness of himself and his outside and the people aroud him, without all of that what we can capture is the emotion of music,” Smith says.
After seeing Painless, Community senior McKenna Duman says it caught her attention in a way other school presentations about the dangers of drugs haven’t. “First of all, the actors were near my age, so just like seeing that this can be something that can happen to anyone my age,” Duman says. “I’m like always listening to music when I’m not in class and stuff, and so hearing this all through music really helped it connect.”
Senior Isabella Stevens agrees that Painless grabs attention in a way powerpoint presentations or reading from a book never can. “Emotion that came out of every voice and the actors did a phenomonal job of showing the expressions on their faces,” Stevens says. “When they were excited to like use the drug and continue using the drug, like you could almost feel excited with them. And when the athlete was running and crying to his mom begging for help, like I literally almost cried like that was really sad, because I’ve seen people, I’ve known people like that begging for help and you don’t know what they are going through in a way because you haven’t done it. So seeing that was really moving.”
While the immediate response from Community students is encouraging, University of Michigan officials are doing a formal assessment to make sure they are truly changing the impression teens have about the risks of opioids. Brummett knows it takes more than the musical to make a real difference, “I don’t think we assume just the musical alone is going to do this, but if it helps them engage in the curriculum, you know somebody’s put, educators have put thought into this curriculum, what are we going to teach, how are we going to teach it and if we can just get the students to engage in the curriculum more, listen more and use the toolkits and the music later, than that’s a win.”
Community health teacher Becky Brent says Painless did a good job of hitting on the topic of how drugs change the way teens think that. “This performance really highlighted the individual perspective of those brain changes,” Brent says. “So we’ll go back into class after watching this and connect the musical pieces directly to our content and show how they highlighted different areas that we’ve been learning this entire time.”
Brent adds it’s important to make sure everyone that sees the musical, all teens, and their families also are made aware of important resources in their community to help in the battle against opiod addiction. She says for AAPS students and families these include Dawn Farm and Home of New Vision.