Anti-drug video ready for premiere

Teen overdose death prompted group effort

May 14, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

After 14 months of planning and seven months of production, an anti-heroin video created by a group of concerned parents and students will be privately shown tonight at Western Maryland College. A public premiere is scheduled next week at the senior center in Westminster.

The private showing of "Heroin Kills" is for 125 invited guests, including the cast, production crew, sponsors and members of Residents Attacking Drugs. The grass-roots community group sprang up in Carroll County after the death of Liam O'Hara, a 15-year-old Westminster High School student, from an overdose in January 1998.

"We are thrilled -- and so thankful to all who have helped -- that the video is finally ready to send a strong message to kids before they get involved with this deadly drug," said Linda Auerback, RAD's founder and spokeswoman.

A mother of four and friend of the O'Hara family, Auerback was outraged that two of three teen-agers suspected of selling the lethal overdose to Liam for $30 were allowed to return to school after being arrested.

Auerback enlisted the support of family, friends, State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, educators, state and local police, juvenile authorities and community-based service agencies, such as Junction Inc., the county's outpatient drug-treatment center for adolescents, to tackle the problem of drug use in the county.

Their message, proclaimed on billboards, refrigerator magnets and bumper stickers provided by the state's attorney, served as the video's theme: "Heroin Kills."

The RAD group has lobbied in Annapolis for stiffer legislation, helped sponsor last summer's successful rock concert at Carroll Community College and began producing the anti-heroin video in October.

`The right way'

"Linda and the RAD group went about it in the right way, seeking advice from a lot of different people," said Heather DeWees, a ninth-grade teacher at the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville.

DeWees and her husband, Jim, a corporal with the Maryland State Police, served as consultants for the video, which has been cast, filmed, scored and edited for about $5,000, Auerback said.

From the beginning, Auerback was told professional production costs would run about $50,000, Auerback brought in Sharon Weaver, her sister-in-law and a special education teacher at Ridge School in Baltimore County, to write the script and direct the video, which she and Debra Kehs, RAD's vice president, co-produced.

Weaver has 35 years experience in theater as an actress and director in the metropolitan Baltimore area.

Bobby Hird, singer and lead guitarist for Crack The Sky, a popular band that headlined last summer's Alpha Concert, volunteered to write and perform the score.

Hird said Life Song Records permitted the use of two previously released Crack The Sky songs. Hird and four friends, John Tracey, Glenn Workman, Lee Townsend and George Barnhart, wrote and performed four songs written just for the video, including the theme song, "Heroin Kills."

Hird said he believes the video will "open up some eyes" for kids who might be thinking about using heroin. "The music was written to appeal to 14- and 15-year-olds," he said.

Filming and editing was coordinated by Lee Ziemski, who has 25 years of experience with Maryland Public Television and eight years with Home Team Sports.

He got involved with the Alpha Concert and offered to help with the video because of a family member's addiction to heroin, Auerback said.

The production ran into several setbacks along the way, Auerback said.

Jim DeWees had enlisted the support of Col. David B. Mitchell, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, who offered the use of police filming equipment. But the state police equipment was not available because of another project. The University of Maryland stepped in and offered free use of production equipment, Auerback said.

When it appeared that profits from the Alpha Concert and other funds would not cover production costs, promotions and a thank-you party for all who volunteered services, Auerback said, Bill Cunningham, owner of Playtime Corp. and Rainbows & Reasons Inc. day care facilities, offered to underwrite tomorrow's festivities, which cost $1,500. Workman was instrumental in securing free use of Speakeasy Productions Inc., a Baltimore recording studio, Hird said.

Studio costs can run $700 a day or more, Auerback said.

Scott Markle, a member of RAD, provided graphics for programs, posters and the jacket cover.

The video is not based on the death of Liam O'Hara, or any other specific overdose victim, she said. But is does depict a boy who struggles with heroin addiction and succumbs to temptation.

Heather DeWees, who has not seen the video, said its goal is to scare youthful students into avoiding heroin.

"Kid's need a reality check," she said. "Some haven't favored this goal. They don't want to scare kids, but I thought it was a great idea from the beginning. They need to be too scared to get involved with the stuff to begin with."

Health issues

DeWees said she has found it easy to work anti-drug messages into her lesson plans, because drugs are integral to the social, political and health issues being taught in the school curriculum.

"The viewpoint of `Heroin Kills' comes from teen-agers, good students and bad ones, and from young addicts who were interviewed before the script was ever written," Auerback said. "It is from them and by them."

"Heroin Kills" has received the blessing of Carroll County educators, Auerback said.

Joanne Hayes, substance abuse prevention coordinator for county schools, saw the video before the music was dubbed in.

"It was painful to watch, a reminder of Carroll County kids who have died from heroin," she said. "If it prevents even one young boy or girl from getting involved with heroin, it will be a success."

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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