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Program Lets Youngsters Watch Real-Life Horrors of Drugs and Alcohol

January 12, 1996

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) _ John Thackaberry, 14, played dead as emergency room nurses zipped him into a body bag. His father sobbed real tears as he contemplated losing John to drugs and alcohol.

Later, they toured the morgue with a pathologist who showed them the effects of trauma on human organs _ a slice of a brain, a heart, a liver. They saw another teen wired to life support in an intensive care unit.

All of it had the desired effect on John: For the first time, he faced his own mortality, that a stupid mistake could kill him.

``It was being ... in the body bag and thinking that this can actually happen, you’re not immortal,″ John said Thursday. ``I actually thought about me being dead.″

Scaring teens away from drugs and alcohol with a heavy dose of reality is the goal of a new program at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

Called Facing Alcohol Challenges Together, the program brings parents and youngsters together for a half day of role playing and frank talk about the consequences of abusing drugs and alcohol.

``The goal is to bring kids through the front door of the hospital now instead of through the emergency room later,″ said program coordinator Dr. Paul Taheri, medical director of the center’s trauma-burn unit.

Role-playing scenarios have youngsters watching sobering scenes: a nurse telling a mother of an accident victim that her child is dead; a chaplain giving last rites to a pretend victim.

``It’s very emotional for all involved,″ said registered nurse and program coordinator Pam Pucci.

Parents learn as well.

``It was an unbelievable dose of reality,″ said Karen Nutting, who went through the first run of the program Wednesday with her daughter, Rachel.

Rachel, who is about to turn 13, said she thought the program could help teen-agers resist peer pressure to drink and use drugs.

``There are kids in my neighborhood already caught in the drug web,″ she said. ``They already have problems and they’re still in middle school.″

Nutting said the program forced at least one change in her behavior. She now keeps her rarely used liquor cabinet locked.

``You can’t just put it all on your children,″ she said. ``There’s things you can do as responsible parents to make sure problems don’t come up.″

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