Project AWARE

MARCH 01, 2007
Cmdr John Burke

Project AWARE, a subgroup of the Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs, is a youth empowerment group that addresses current issues important to adolescents, and it is working to raise awareness of teen prescription drug abuse. Its theater group, the Project AWARE Players, recently performed, directed, and wrote the movie Falling that premiered in Biddeford, Maine, in early February. The educational video will be available nationwide for schools and others that wish to spread knowledge of the problem in their areas later this spring.

A group of students aged 14 to 19 years participated in the production that highlights the life of a 16-year-old girl who is injured playing soccer and eventually resorts to taking pain medication from a teammate. This ultimately leads to her downfall as she becomes addicted to prescription drugs.

In the movie, it is pointed out that prescription drugs can certainly provide beneficial results when taken properly, prescribed by a doctor, and dispensed by a pharmacist. With the current rise in teen prescription drug abuse, however, the movie is designed to make teens, parents, teachers, and others aware of the potential for the abuse of pharmaceuticals and its potentially devastating outcome.

This kind of effort is not only commendable but very timely, in light of the fact that many surveys of teenagers have indicated a sharp rise in prescription drug problems over the past few years. Much of this has come from teens discovering that what they need to get high may be at home in their parents' medicine cabinets, at their terminally ill grandparents' homes, at parties, or on the Internet.

Chat rooms and other Web sites that teens frequent are often filled with the so-called advantages of abusing prescription drugs, how many to take, and more effective ways to abuse certain pharmaceuticals to create the ultimate high. These sites certainly have not helped stem the tide of prescription drug abuse among our youth.

Part of the answer to this is exactly what Project AWARE is trying to do— educate teens and adults about the potential problems of drug diversion, an issue that all too often still remains hidden in our society. With too many parents and educators still saying "not my child" or "not in our school," the hope is that people will wake up and see that this can be a devastating issue that must be addressed by the entire community. Law enforcement is only a part of the solution; education and prevention, along with effective treatment, are the best options to confront this issue in the teen years and hopefully stop it from becoming a lifetime addiction in adult years.

Hats off to Project AWARE for addressing the issue of prescription drug abuse, and let us hope this important video reaches teenagers, parents, educators, and other members of the general public to make a significant difference in people's lives. My guess is that it can and will produce some very positive results. For more information on Project AWARE, visit its Web site at Requests for advance order forms for the video can be e-mailed to

John Burke, commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 38-year veteran of law enforcement. Cmdr Burke also is the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. For information, he can be reached by e-mail at, via the Web site, or by phone at 513-336-0070.