On Thursday October 25th, Nantucket High School hosted an assembly for a professional acting group comprised of recovered drug addicts known as the Improbable Players. Holly McGowan, president of the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP), invited them to the island to celebrate Red Ribbon Week. Red Ribbon Week is a substance abuse and violence prevention awareness campaign observed every October in the United States.

To begin the assembly, the actors entered the stage from the audience and set up a game show called “Whose the Addict?” The three contestants were Penelope, Lord Spellington, and Crazy Larry. Through a series of questions the students in the audience had to guess which contestant was the addict. In the end, it was revealed that all of the contestants were addicts. Through a series of skits set in a rehab facility, each of the actors demonstrated what addiction is and how and why it might start.

At the end of the show, the actors introduced themselves, told their backstories and touched on their personal struggles with addiction. Meghan had struggled with depression and anxiety and used drugs to feel different. Ryan went to college, had no supervision, and got caught up in the drug scene there. Zach had a need to fit in and began to prioritize drugs, completely depleting his savings. Chris began drinking in middle school, where she built a dependence on it that lasted through the majority of her teenage years. All of the actors were seriously ill with addiction and finally realized they needed help.

The Improbable Players use theater performances and workshops to address addiction, alcoholism, and the opioid epidemic. Their performances are 25-45 minutes long followed by a talkback and Q&A. Their plays are based on true stories and performed by people in recovery. They have touring troupes in New England, New York and New Jersey, and Cleveland Ohio. Their work is appropriate for 6th grade and up. They’ve also performed at conferences, treatment centers, and community events across the country.

Senior Anna Steadman said, “It was really interesting to see someone who has gone through a lot of struggles end up doing something really meaningful to them in their lives.”

Massachusetts is currently experiencing an epidemic of opioid-related overdose and death. These overdoses are driven by the underlying chronic disease of opioid addiction or opioid use disorders. People with opioid addiction are at high risk of overdose and death. Opioid-related deaths in the state were more than four times higher in 2015 than in 2000, making the rate of increase several times faster than anything seen here before. In 2013–2014 alone, opioid-related deaths occurred in two-thirds of the cities and towns in Massachusetts. The opioid-related death rate in Massachusetts has surpassed the national average, with an especially sharp rise in the last two years.

With that in mind, what the Improbable Players and ASAP are addressing is extremely important to the community. At points it may have been cheesy or awkward, but they get the point across: drug and alcohol addiction is a very lethal disease that can be treated if you are willing to reach out for help.

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