Reality Tour anti-drug program to mark 15 years in Westmoreland County

Officials across Westmoreland County are gearing up to celebrate 15 years of an anti-drug project that works to educate parents and children on the dangers of drug abuse.

Reality Tour, which was founded by Butler County resident Norma Norris in 2003, has been active in Westmoreland County since 2007 when drug prevention courses began at the courthouse. Since then, the program has expanded throughout the county, with classes offered in Belle Vernon, Hempfield and Murrysville.

“To have one run for 15 years and still be in good shape and to still keep running is amazing,” Norris said.

The milestone will be celebrated at 6 pm Wednesday in the showroom of Toyota of Greensburg, which has been presenting a grant to support Reality Tour over the past several years. At the event, County Commissioner Sean Kertes will present a proclamation acknowledging 15 years of service.

Hempfield Area School District, which began working with the program in 2010, will be awarded a $1,500 grant. The district assigns a sixth-grade classroom to the tour dates annually.

Matthew Conner, Hempfield’s assistant superintendent of secondary education, said the grant will help support drug prevention education and Red Ribbon Week activities.

“Reality Tour is a program that sparks communication on a topic that is often difficult to discuss between parent and child,” Conner said.

Norris founded Reality Tour to teach parents and children about the risks and consequences of drug abuse while finding ways to avoid experimentation.

During the program, attendees are presented with chilling scenarios about the harsh realities of drug use: arrests that show teens sitting in a jail cell; an overdose scene with parents running through the crowd to get to their child in the hospital; and finally a funeral featuring a mirror on the pillow of a casket that reads, “Don’t let this happen to you.”

“All that becomes very emotional,” Norris said. “Parents are there looking with their child age 10 and up, and what’s going through the parents’ minds is, ‘This is terrible.’ … And possibly for the first time a child is realizing, ‘I don’t want to do something like this to my parents.’ ”

Attendees then go to an assembly where they learn about the top four drugs being used and look at national statistics.

The final part involves first-person accounts from law enforcement and individuals in recovery.

“One thing that our research showed was that we do increase the ease of communication between parents and children, and we increase the number of times they will discuss drugs and alcohol,” Norris said.

Drug abuse has been an ongoing issue across the country for decades, with drug overdose deaths topping 100,000 each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2021. That same year, Westmoreland County saw 168 accidental drug overdose deaths, the highest that number has been since 2017, according to a coroner’s report.

The powerful opioid fentanyl was recorded as a top killer, contributing to 137 of the 168 deaths.

Looking forward, Norris is hoping to expand the program’s reach while lowering the number of people impacted by drug misuse.

“It just should be everywhere,” Norris said of Reality Tour. “It’s a simple way the average person can pull together a couple of their friends and do something about this now.”

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune Review staff writer. You can contact Megan by email at mtomasic@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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