If you were the producer of a crime show on TV, and your police officer character was a chain smoker, how would you write the scene where he chases a criminal down the street? A chain smoker would probably be winded, because of less lung room. So you’d show him panting and out of breath. As noted in NIDA’s Drugs: Shatter the Myths booklet, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use are often depicted in popular entertainment and media. And because TV and movies can influence what people think and believe, the Entertainment Industries Council, Inc., the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and FX have teamed up to host the 15th Annual PRISM Awards. This nationally televised awards show recognizes actors, movies, music, media, and TV shows that “accurately depict and bring attention to substance abuse and mental health issues, including prevention, treatment, and recovery.”
The PRISM Awards recognize people in the creative world who “tell it like it is,” showing the reality of important health issues and increasing awareness. Winners are chosen based on entertainment value, accessibility of the message about substance abuse or mental health issues, and scientific accuracy.
So who’s doing a good job of depicting substance abuse and mental health issues? This year’s PRISM nominees include the movie Iron Man 2 and the prime-time television series, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Drop Dead Diva, The Vampire Diaries, and Degrassi: The Next Generation. Nominees also include reality shows and documentaries such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami, Intervention, MTV’s If you Really Knew Me, and VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
So, mark your calendar: the 15th Annual PRISM Awards will take place on April 28, 2011. To read more about the PRISM awards and to see a complete list of this year’s nominees, visit http://www.prismawards.com.
One of the things I love most about music is its ability to transform tragedy into hope, as anyone who has listened obsessively to a "breakup song" knows. But, as artists like Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Joan Baez, and countless others have shown, songs can do more than comfort. They can change who we are as a culture and inspire us to work together to make the world a better place.
So, when I first met with a group of advanced music production students at the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I knew I wanted to do more than just help the teens make an album of original music. I also wanted to help them make a difference in their community—to tap into the transformative power of music to heal, to comfort, and to open a window of hope.
A Life Lost to Addiction
The high school class of eight fledgling producers, songwriters, rappers, and musicians were all highly enthusiastic about the project. When considering issues to address, they reflected on the senseless 2010 death of a schoolmate, 16-year-old Haley Paternoster, of a heroin overdose. It turned out almost all of us had seen someone—a friend, a family member—destroyed by addiction, whether from heroin, prescription drugs like OxyContin, or alcohol. Haley’s death offered us a tragic common bond.
The class decided to make an album of original hip-hop music focused on addiction, dedicated to Haley's memory. Her father, Steve Paternoster, a local restaurateur, talk show host, and philanthropist, talked to our class several times. His words were raw, real, and deeply moving. Other students, also touched by addiction, began sharing personal stories, allowing us to begin working through our losses and permitting us to dive in, fully aware and sensitive to how addiction can wreck lives.
Haley, We Miss You
It took just 2 weeks to complete the title track, "Haley, We Miss You." We pushed forward. It was very important to the students that we keep the message real, unlike many other antidrug education programs they had experienced in the school system. We wanted an album to be thoughtful and hard hitting while keeping in mind the many complexities surrounding the issue.
The students composed songs about the power of music, the apparent contradictions of the "war on drugs," and the hardships of growing up in the rougher parts of our hometown. They wrote about the dangers of prescription painkillers and how advertisers try to manipulate youth to buy their products. We looked at addiction as part of the larger context of the mental and emotional health of our community.
Jennifer Weiss of the Albuquerque Heroin Awareness Committee, whose son Cameron had overdosed after a long struggle with heroin addiction, approached us. Cameron was a poet and rapper who, before he died, had composed and partially recorded a song about his struggle, "A One Way Track To Hell." It was a haunting and powerful work that unknowingly foreshadowed Cameron’s death; we accepted the challenge of completing the backing music and remixing the song to include in the album.
A CD for Every 8th Grader in Albuquerque
The album was just the first step. Our ultimate goal: to produce a CD for every 8th grader in Albuquerque. Prevention experts suggest that 8th graders are at the highest risk for experimenting with opioid painkillers, usually in the form of OxyContin, which was the case for Haley before switching to heroin. We felt the best approach was to try to reach out to kids at risk of using before they start.
Our label, "SoundOven," was created both as a musical identity and as the name for the organization we wanted to launch using music and film as media for positive social change. We knew we needed a budget for CD duplication, printing costs, and a music video. So, we started a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo asking for help. The fundraising appeal has concluded, but you can still check out our pitch video.
We received an overwhelming response: in 90 days, we had raised more than $10,000. Haley’s dad Steve was personally very generous, but we also got a big helping hand when the Albuquerque Journal did a front-page story on our campaign, subsequently picked up in local TV newscasts. In the end, more than 100 people from 5 countries contributed to our cause.
The Mission Continues
I could not be prouder of my students, Floyd Moya, Robert Serrano, Falon Cole, Ruben Valenzuela, Caelan Harris, Issac Leeman, Alex Wilson, Quinlan Spears, and Alex Torres. Their creativity, passion, and dedication makes me excited to get up every morning to do this work.
But the work is not yet done. We now have 2,000 copies of the finished CD to place into the hands of youth at risk for opioid addiction—which could really be anyone. We are coordinating with the heroin awareness committee and Albuquerque Public Schools substance abuse counselors, the culmination of our yearlong effort.
Blake Minnerly is a musician, filmmaker, and educator whose passion is helping young people make meaningful, professional media projects that advocate for positive social change in their communities. Besides his work at the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School, he plays in several bands and does freelance soundtrack composition, sound design, and editing. He is currently in the process of incorporating SoundOven as an independent nonprofit to continue and expand the project started in his advanced music production class.
- The Albuquerque film office for securing locations and permits from the city at no cost
- The Film Tech program at the Community College of New Mexico for raising our production values exponentially with their outstanding equipment and talented students
- The Mount Olive Baptist Church for generously lending their facility and the talented voices of their choir
In 2011, at age 14, Grant Davis was recognized by NIDA and the GRAMMY Foundation for his song, “Just a Child,” a tribute to his older sister Kelly, who struggled with addiction.
Recently, Grant shared his story during a TEDx event at the University of Nevada. TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) and TEDx are a series of conferences designed to share “ideas worth spreading.”
Grant, now 16, says that as he prepared his TED talk, he remembered how he felt seeing his sister passed out on the floor. “I couldn’t get that image out of my head,” he says. “Heroin, Kelly’s drug of choice, is incredibly difficult to overcome. Every second of every day, I know she wishes she could go back and live her life differently.”
But Grant’s latest song, “What About Me?” focuses on another aspect of drug addiction—how it also affects the person’s loved ones and overshadows everything else.
Grant says, “At 10 years old, I experienced many scary thoughts about my sister’s addiction. My parents were wrapped up with helping her, and I kept thinking, ‘What about me?’ The pain was overwhelming.”
Singing gave Grant a way to release the pain he was feeling. “I began singing, first in the shower, then in my room. Through singing, I found the pain was nearly gone, and I could think clearly,” Grant explains.
A conversation with his mother gave Grant a new idea. He says, “I thought, I can’t be the only kid suffering. So I decided to start an afterschool club for anyone having troubles at home.”
Creativity for Positivity
Grant calls this club WAM, for “What About Me?” and sees it providing a creative outlet for kids who might otherwise give in to negative influences and peer pressure. WAM has three main goals, to help kids:
- Build friendships.
- Find their creative place in the world.
- Share their talent.
“The process of sharing and discovering your talent can have a genuine impact on self-esteem so that kids do not fall prey to drugs,” Grant says. Noting his sister’s continuing struggles, he observes, “It’s easier than having to fix a drug problem afterwards.”
Grant envisions WAM as a way for kids to find and share their voices in whatever form of creative expression they choose. “I do believe that anyone who wants to can fly.”
Tell us in comments: Do any creative pursuits help when you get down or go through hard times?
NIDA stays up to date on drug use trends. At the end of 2012, we noticed a huge spike in the number of searches on the NIDA for Teens Web site for information on “Molly,” a club drug made from MDMA, the pure form of Ecstasy.
Mostly, Molly is abused at clubs and concerts and is referred to in electronic music. Now, rap and hip hop are mentioning the drug more often.
In 2012, several major artists released songs that referenced Molly:
- Kanye West, “Mercy”: “Something about Mary, she gone off that Molly / Now the whole party is melted like Dalí.”
- Trinidad James, “All Gold Everything”: “Popped a Molly and now I’m sweating, woo!”
- Rihanna, “Diamonds”: “Palms rise to the universe, as we moonshine and Molly / Feel the warmth, we’ll never die / We’re like diamonds in the sky.”
While many of these songs focus on the euphoria Molly can cause, they leave out the dangers it poses to the brain and body. To find out indepth information about how Molly affects the brain, check out this three-part series on MDMA.
Molly may be a hot topic in pop culture, but most teens steer clear of the drug. In 2012, NIDA’s Monitoring the Future survey found that only 7.2% of 12th graders had used Ecstasy in their lifetimes—a 4.5% decrease from 2011.
Tell us: Does rap music influence what you and your friends do, like what you wear? Do references in rap songs make you want to seek out the facts?
What is Allura Garis’ Natural High? Music.
Why? She enjoys how music brings people together. She also loves the passion that her favorite musicians bring to their performances.
Allura became the Youth Engagement Coordinator for Natural High, a drug abuse prevention organization, thanks to her commitment to living a drug-free life. But it wasn’t always that way.
A Rocky Start
As a high school freshman in southern California, Allura worked with local and national rock musicians as a band promoter, helping to expose teens and young adults to new music and encouraging them to attend concerts.
Unfortunately, Allura fell in with the wrong crowd her junior year. Her new friends did drugs, and she began to drink alcohol. But it didn’t take long for Allura to realize the need to stop these destructive behaviors.
“I lost self-respect,” Allura says. “I was working so hard to get my name out in the music business and I knew acting like this wasn’t going to help.”
A Life-Changing Encounter
Allura attended the 2010 Warped Tour, where she visited Natural High’s informational tent. She took a sticker that said, “Music Is my Natural High.” Later, she looked up the organization online and watched a video featuring Cassadee Pope, winner of NBC’s “The Voice” season 3. Like Allura, Cassadee’s natural high was music. In the video, she said that she didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs because, “I don’t want to be strung out, I want to have fun on tour, I want to be lively and young….I stay away from it.”
Her words hit home with Allura: “That was a message I really needed at that moment.”
Allura emailed Natural High and asked how she could get involved. She began interning with the organization in the summer of 2010. A year later, Natural High hired her as Youth Engagement Coordinator because of her enthusiasm for helping teens choose a positive lifestyle, and for her continuing role as a youth trendsetter in the local music scene.
In summer 2013, Allura will have the chance to introduce teens to the concept of “natural high” the way she learned about it: She will coordinate Natural High’s presence at all five of the southern California stops for the Warped Tour. She’ll manage the tent, plan the campaign, research the bands, and conduct band interviews. She will also represent Natural High at the 2013 Switchfoot Bro-Am benefit festival for at-risk youth.
“This journey has come full circle for me,” Allura says. “I love that I get to remind teens that there are teens and musicians that live a drug-free lifestyle.”
Now 20 years old, Allura Garis is a college student at Mesa College in San Diego and is in charge of social media outreach for Natural High. Besides music, she loves to skateboard, play tennis and softball, and spend time outside in southern California’s beautiful, sunny weather. Her other natural high is spending time with her best friends, and she hopes to plan a trip for them to visit San Francisco this summer.
Summer music festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella, or Country USA offer a great chance to hear live music, hang out with friends, and enjoy a fun scene. Outdoor festivals draw thousands of people from across the country for multiday events featuring dozens of shows. The festivals include food, activities like art projects and silent discos, and several stages for musical acts.
But the music festival environment may encourage festival goers to act in ways they might not otherwise. A poll from MSN UK asked 2,000 summer music festival goers about why they attended and how they acted:
- 47% confessed to doing something at a music festival that they would “never consider doing outside of the music festival environment.”
- 21% reported using illegal drugs while at the festival.
- Only 45% said they attended the festivals to listen to the music.
The truth is, you don’t need drugs and alcohol to enjoy a musical festival. Some people even find that music itself provides a natural high.
Why Stay Drug Free at Festivals?
You want to preserve your memories. Summer music festivals are an amazing way to see your favorite artists, discover new bands, and meet new people. Drugs can cause memory loss and alter your perception of events.
Drugs affect your thinking and decisions. When you’re around thousands of strangers, you want your mind to be clear and focused so you can stick with friends and stay safe.
Drugs have side effects. They can raise your heart rate, make you dizzy, make you sweat or give you chills, and cause other side effects. In a hot, crowded environment, you want to feel your best.
Though some music stars make music festivals seem to be all about alcohol and drugs, people who go to music festivals don’t need to use drugs or alcohol to have fun. Get a good group of friends together, find out where your favorite bands are playing, and enjoy the live music experience.
Tell us: How do you have fun at music festivals or concerts without using drugs or alcohol?
Recently, NIDA met with its Teen Advisory Group—a group of diverse teens from around the country—to talk about pop culture, celebrities, and drugs. All of the teens were eager to talk about how they react to drug references in song lyrics.
The conversation turned to Miley Cyrus and her song “We Can’t Stop.” Some of the teens expressed shock when they found out that the lyric “We like to party, dancing with Molly” was a reference to the drug MDMA—they had no idea, and it changed their opinion of the song for the worse. “We Can’t Stop” peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and sold millions of copies, so it’s possible that millions of teens are unknowingly promoting drug use by simply singing along.
Is that really a big deal? We think so. Music can be very influential in how we perceive our world. Songs have the power to change minds and hearts, transform our mood, and comfort those who have been hurt.
Lyrics With a Positive Message
Miley’s controversial song highlights the need for songs with lyrics that support healthy decisions. The 4th annual Teens! Make Music contest is your chance to write a song that will feature lyrics encouraging your peers to stay away from drugs. The GRAMMY Foundation and MusiCares invite teens to compose an original song or music video that celebrates a healthy lifestyle or depicts a story about drug abuse.
You get to control the message in the music—and you might win tickets to see the GRAMMY Awards!
About the Teens! Make Music Contest
- Music must be original.
- You can submit an original song only or an original song with a video.
- Entries must be less than 4 minutes long.
- Entries must be submitted by December 2, 2013.
- 1st Place: $500 and two tickets to the 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards
- 2nd Place: $250
- 3rd Place: $100
- All winners will be invited to attend the GRAMMY Awards Backstage Experience
And tell us in comments: How do you feel about drug references in songs?