‘Think about it’ message simple and powerful
By Danette Dooley
By Danette Dooley
It’s not unusual for a passerby to stop Boyd Merrill. The stranger likely doesn’t recall his name but remembers Merrill’s message – and that’s just the way it should be, Merrill says.
“They can’t remember my name but they remember Norm and Fred.”
Merrill and his son Jason co-founded “Norm and Fred: Think about Drugs” about two decades ago. Jason was 12 years old at the time.
“Jason told me that he wanted me to come talk to his class. He told me that he didn’t want me to preach or say drugs are illegal, and he told me ‘You can’t say I’m a cop so listen to me.'”
Merrill wrote a one-man play in 1993. He took the show, which he performs in less than an hour, into school gymnasiums, churches, theatres and anywhere else people invited him.
Over the next decade, he gave live performances to more than 150,000 youth and adults in Canada and beyond.
His goal – to share the truth about drugs to help his audience make the right decisions.
Merrill is a staff sergeant with the RCMP’s “B” Division in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In the play, he plays four characters – a farm boy, cop, drug dealer named Norm and university student named Fred.
He takes his audience on a journey to the drug world – a place where decisions are influenced by drug use.
“It’s based on drug dealers that I knew. People that I’ve lost (from drug abuse) and things that I’ve learned about drugs over the years.”
In the presentation, Merrill’s characters Norm and Fred address the drug users, not the sellers or substances.
“The cop talks about what he experienced with kids overdosing, about how that made him feel as a police officer dealing with drugs. They see a different side of a police officer,” Merrill says.
The character Norm introduces the audience to drugs – from a dealer’s perspective.
The dealer isn’t interested in where the drugs came from, Merrill says; rather his only focus is on selling drugs and making money.
The highlight of the play is the university student. Fred shows the audience the true reality of the drug world and what can happen when you use them or are around them.
Fred introduces the audience to someone whose life ended quickly because of drug use. The young man named Timmy represents many people who lost their lives in a similar way, Merrill says.
“He replicates my friend Dave, my friend Jessie, my friend John, my friend Mike, all who died from different alcohol and drug substances.”
After each live performance, he says, youth approach him looking for help.
“Kids were reporting drug use, they were looking for help with addictions, they were looking for help with family issues, they were seeking help for their drug-related trafficking behaviours.”
By 2004 Merrill’s career as an RCMP officer prevented him from offering live performances so his presentation was recorded professionally at the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia and put on VHS tape and then DVD.
Copies of the video have reached as far as China, England, Europe, South America and all over the United States.
In keeping up with technology, Merrill is now reaching out to even more people with his powerful message. Triware Technologies, which hosts the Think about Drugs (www.drugplay.com) web site, arranged to upload the material to You Tube.
Two decades after the presentation was conceived, it’s now available free of charge to youth and adults all over the world who have an Internet connection.
“I want people to see the presentation and to share it with others. I want people to see what’s going to happen if you start using dope to solve your problems.”
What’s behind the success of Merrill’s message about drugs?
It’s exactly what his son wanted – non-preachy and based on actual people that Merrill encountered during his police career. The play is peppered with messages encouraging young and old alike to think before they try.
Jason says his father has been able to reach out to so many people because of his ability to think outside of the box. “He has always been the most clever person I know,” he says.
His father’s approach in the play is what won the kids over, he says.
“He never got up in front of the kids and said don’t do drugs. He never stood there glaring down at them and told them what they should or should not be doing. His message is very clear – just think about it.”
The beauty of his father’s presentation, he says, is that when the day comes and kids are faced with situations where they are tempted to experiment with drugs, they’ll remember Norm and Fred and will stop to ponder the consequences of their actions.
The statement ‘think about it’ is as simple as it is powerful, Jason says.
“They may decide they want to experiment with trying a substance, but thinking about what they are doing may keep them from getting in a car later that night and driving away, potentially hurting themselves and those around them,” he says.
While the format of the presentation has changed over the years to keep up with social media, Merrill’s message remains steadfast.
“I just want to share the truth,” he says.