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1 in 14 Roanoke teens admit to trying heroin, a new group tackles the issue

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) -Talking about the hard issues, The Ice Cream Man isn't your typical children's theatre production.

The play opens with teens talking about drinking, smoking and doing drugs. The underlying theme however, is a strong message about prevention and the realities teens face.

Drug abuse isn't something all parents can easily talk to their children about. But the problem is all too real.  That's the gap the Roanoke Children's Theatre hopes to fill.

Nancy Hans, Executive Director with the Prevention Council says her organization and their partner organization RAYSAC does a survey with teens every year. In the most recent survey, 1 in 14 teens admitted to trying heroin.

"It's a conversation that we can't be afraid to talk about," Hans said. She says drug abuse can start as early as the 6th grade.

"You've got to get ahead of this. You don't just wake up one day and decide to try heroin, this starts way before," Hans said.

The performance The Ice Cream man depicts four teens and their experience with drug use and how the end up later in life. For director Pat Wilhelms, it's a way to reach teens when conversations can't.

"Theatre is one way that people can experience and learn things because they feel it in their heart," Wilhelms said.

Tough issues are not something this theatre company hides from. In the past, Wilhelms says they've tackeled tough subjects that affect teens such as eating disorders and online bullying.

The production resonated with a group of at risk teens in the audience, some even left in tears. Actor David Schultz says it has meant a great deal to him and other cast members to be part of a production that makes a difference.

"It's great seeing all of these kids coming out and going to schools and seeing kids just crying and going through the emotions. It's really hitting home with them," Wilhelm said.

But perhaps the most powerful message goes beyond the acting, to after the performance when real life former addicts and the families of those who lost their lives to drugs tell their story.

"We can actually process this and we can have kids be able to ask questions and know that there are resources out there and that they can go and get help," Hans said.

The production opens Thursday night and is free to the public. Performances will be held March 10-13 at the Dumas Center on Historic Henry Street, 108 First Street NW (Henry Street), Roanoke VA 24011

Resources will be available to parents and children about substance abuse after the production.


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