More than 2,000 fifth-graders in Lee County will learn the consequences of drinking, drug use and driving at the 2012 Drug House Odyssey next week.
Hosted by the Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida, the program consists of a 40-minute walk-through play, an audio-visual presentation at the conclusion of the event and educational displays from local agencies.
School trips are planned on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for about 1,200 students. Held at the Cape Christian Fellowship, the program is open to the public Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. There is no cost for admission.
"We know that underage drinking can be a huge problem," Deborah Comella, executive director of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida, said.
"We also know that most kids in Lee County are not drinking," she added. "The Drug House Odyssey has been put together to underscore those good decisions (made by local children) and re-enforce those good decisions."
The play opens with a teenage girl who is at a baby-sitting job when her friends show up with alcohol and drugs. The audience sees the results of making bad decisions as it follows the friends through different scenes.
Drug House Odyssey 2012
Wednesday, March 7, from 6-8 p.m.
Cape Christian Fellowship, at 2110 Chiquita Blvd. S.
"It shows a drunk driving arrest, a car accident, an emergency room," Comella said. "The State Attorney's Office brings the whole courtroom."
There are about 30 groups participating in the play, including area public safety agencies, Lee Memorial Health System, Lee County School District, drug and alcohol prevention programs, volunteer organizations and more.
Members of the Cape Coral police and fire departments will be involved.
Sgt. Dina Cox, with the CCPD'S special operations unit, said four district resource coordinators will take part in the program in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, like the Fort Myers police and sheriff's office.
"Each of the agencies supply officers that are available to either be the actual officers that are in the scene or help greet the kids as they arrive," she said, adding that they rotate. "They'll actually be doing everything."
The department also will have displays set up. On Tuesday, the motorcycle unit is scheduled to be on hand. The mobile command vehicle will be present Wednesday, and the marine unit will be on display for Thursday's program.
On Wednesday evening, there will be about 20 children from the CCPD's Explorers Program and two traffic units on hand, along with the simulated driving impaired vehicle. Police volunteers will lend support all three days.
"We recognize that education is paramount for preventing tragedies," Cox said. "One of the main goals of the Drug House Odyssey is to educate the kids to make wise choices and this Drug House Odyssey shows the kids in a personal way, by using kids close to their own age, the consequences of making the right choice and the consequences of making the wrong choice."
She added that the program is the largest prevention event in Lee.
Dave Webster, the CCFD's public education specialist, said a fire rescue company will be participating in the program this year in partnership with an ambulance crew from Lee County Emergency Medical Services and others.
"They'll be performing the extrication from the car wreck," he said.
The department will not have any displays on hand this year.
"We're in total support of the Drug House Odyssey," Webster said. "It's a unique way to demonstrate to children the consequences of making good and bad choices."
People can try to talk to children in a class setting, but this is different.
"This is an opportunity to actually see it and experience it," he said.
According to participants, the scenes appear real to students.
"They feel it's real," Webster said. "They don't think it's put on."
"It definitely opens their eyes," he said.
Cox noted that some students last year cried during the program.
"The play is set up to be really realistic," she said. "You can tell by the look on the child's face from the beginning of the play to the end - it makes an impression on them."
"They're surprised and they're shocked," she said, of the scenarios. "There's a difference between seeing it in real life and seeing it on TV."
Though the play's storyline typically has stayed the same over the years, organizers change the dialogue, alter scenes and incorporate more modern alcohol and drugs to keep the program current and up with today's times.
"We try to stay up with the times and whatever new thing is out there that the kids are experimenting with," Webster said.
This year's program has alcoholic energy drinks and prescription drugs.
"That's a new trend that we're seeing," Cox said of the drinks.
Prescription drugs, especially pain pills, also are an issue.
"That's a huge concern for parents," Comella said. "It's been a problem for a few years, so it's been a part (of the program) for a few years."
This is the 19th year that the Drug House Odyssey has been organized.
For the first time, organizers have teamed up with the Feeding Cape Coral Food Drive to help collect donations. Students and the public are encouraged to bring canned food to the program. Comella has set a goal of 1,000 cans.