Park City High School students shine light on opioid crisis
Committee helps bring screening of ‘Dying in Vein’ to school
The film stuck with Sydney Oraskovich.
After attending a screening of “Dying in Vein,” a documentary that uses personal stories to explore opiate and heroin addiction, the Park City High School senior knew it would leave a lasting impression on her peers, too. So she set about bringing the film to the school.
“I thought, ‘Hey, this is something we’ve never been exposed to. We’ve never been exposed to drugs in this sort of setting,’” she said. “I feel like the drug education we’ve had previously is just listing a bunch of negative side effects of it, then move on. I wanted to bring the film into school and try to make a difference.”
Eventually, she helped form the Drug Prevention Committee, a coalition of PCHS students dedicated to educating their peers about drug abuse and mental health issues. Last month, they were successful in organizing a screening of “Dying in Vein,” at the school, along with a student panel, and Oraskovich said the result was phenomenal. Nearly 900 students attended the showing, and many were in tears by the time the credits rolled on the screen.
Bob O’Connor, principal of Park City High School, said he was “blown away” by the committee’s efforts to address an important issue like drug abuse. He contrasted the “Dying in Vein” screening with other attempts in recent months to raise awareness in schools about the dangers of drugs, such as a drug-prevention film from the FBI and panel discussions with law enforcement officers.
“It was much more effective, and you could tell by watching the audience,” he said.
Added Oraskovich: “It’s very rare that you meet someone who doesn’t know someone personally — or know someone who knows someone — that’s been affected by opiates. I feel as though it’s not talked about enough. Having the (film) here was meaningful to a lot of students and I hope it sparked a discussion.”
But the committee’s efforts are poised to leave an impact that lasts far longer than a film screening. While many members of the committee are graduating seniors, its underclassmen are working with PCHS administrators to try to implement a program in which 30 minutes of the homeroom class period would be dedicated several times a week — or at least weekly — to learning about topics like mental health, drug abuse and critical thinking in difficult situations.
“We just want to bring them skills they need in life that aren’t necessarily taught in school because of the extreme focus on academics at all times,” said Eli Levine, one of the students spearheading the effort.
The students are hopeful their work will pay off for the students who come through PCHS in the coming years. They said the overdose deaths of two 13-year-old Treasure Mountain Junior High School students made clear drug abuse is a critical topic for the community to address — and what better place for the conversation to take place than within school halls?
Bryan Croce, for instance, said the screening was an excellent first step.
“This issue is something I see that really needs to be addressed — especially in the way we talk about it,” he said, adding that addiction has affected his family. “Some people say only impoverished people can be addicted, or it’s a certain demographic of people that’s addicted. In reality, everyone can be affected by this. It’s not a character flaw. It’s literally a disease. So to me, it’s important we change the dialogue around it and the stigma surrounding it.”
Another student, Kyle Haas, said being on the committee was one of the best experiences of his high school career. Though he’s set to graduate, he’s eager to see where the efforts lead in future years.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to present solutions to a problem so close to home,” he said. “When you take something like this to Park City High School and say, ‘Hey, we have the ability to make a change, and it’s actually really, really easy to do,’ and people are on board, it’s amazing.”
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“The community has really rallied behind our schools right now, which now really means a lot to teachers and staff,” said Kara Cody, Park City Education Foundation’s programs director.