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Mt. Pleasant readies for The Reality Tour

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

The recent rash of drug-related deaths in Westmoreland County, particularly those involving school-aged children, has gotten the attention of Mt. Pleasant Borough Mayor Jerry Lucia and Norvelt District Judge Roger F. Eckels.

The two have partnered with Scottdale District Judge Charles Moore to bring the national anti-drug, anti-alcohol program known as The Reality Tour to the Mt. Pleasant Area School District in conjunction with tour sponsor Candle Inc., a Butler-based nonprofit agency.

“The reason it's called ‘The Reality Tour' is that it shows the reality of what being stuck on drugs or alcohol is like and the bad things that can happen to someone, from getting arrested by police, to overdosing and having paramedics taking someone to the hospital and, finally, to funerals when someone dies,” Lucia said.

The tour — which features real stories and scenarios from people affected by drugs and alcohol — began in 2003 and it has locations in 10 states including Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

The tour's audiences are mostly sixth-graders who attend the three-hour program with their families, according to Norma J. Norris, executive director of Candle Inc. and the tour. It is appropriate for those ages 10 to 17.

The tour includes presentations by recovering addicts, parents who have lost a child to drug overdose and law enforcement officials.

“The evidence-based program uses a ‘walk in the life and death of a teen on drugs' to show choices and consequences,” Norris said. “It is predicated on research that acknowledges that prevention-educated parents are the most powerful prevention tool.”

Since 2007, the tour has been held at Westmoreland County Courthouse.

Lucia said he and Eckels have attended the tour several times at the courthouse and decided to contact Norris to ask about establishing a version of the event locally.

“It's a very educational program and, unfortunately, it is a much needed one at this time,” Eckels said.

Lucia noted that a version of the tour was recently established in the Norwin School District to help offer interested students and parents an alternate site.

The courthouse version has a waiting list due to expanding popularity, Norris said.

“We're trying to reach out and offer this program to those living in the southern end of the county and help take the burden off of the courthouse,” Lucia said.

The efforts of Lucia, Eckels and Moore to establish a Mt. Pleasant area site for the tour are welcome, said Sharron Prettiman, Candle Inc.'s volunteer director of the Westmoreland Courthouse Reality Tour.

“I am honored that they are willing and able to step forward to help fight the outbreak of drugs in this area,” Prettiman said. “The help is needed, because the courthouse is overwhelmed with the amount of tours we conduct there.”

The site and date of the tour in the Mt. Pleasant area are still being determined, though it will likely be held at one of the district elementary schools, Lucia said.

“We would like have one production before the end of the school year, then present another one in September or October, then once a month after that,” Lucia said.

Lucia added that he and the other organizers plan to welcome participation by students and parents from Southmoreland and Yough school districts, as well.

Such news has been met with support from Mt. Pleasant Area Superintendent Terry Struble.

“Obviously, there is a growing, visible drug problem within our communities,” Struble said. “For our kids, and kids throughout this area, the benefit of the tour being held locally is that travel and distance are not as much of a factor.”

Struble said the fact that parents are required to accompany their children on the tour is a big plus.

“The tour itself provides an avenue for parents to have a conversation about this issue and not have it seem like an accusation,” he said. “If this effort saves one or two lives, then it's all worth it.”

Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha recently reported that his deputies investigated a record 71 overdose deaths in 2012.

The Westmoreland County deputy coroner investigating the Feb. 6 death of Hempfield Area student Jonathan Morelli, 18, of Greensburg, found “evidence to indicate drug use,” Bacha said.

For more information on The Reality Tour, visit the website

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or

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