Painless: The Opioid Musical
Inspired by true stories of addiction and recovery, Painless: The Opioid Musical was developed by OPEN in collaboration with the University of Michigan’s Precision Health and School of Music, Theatre & Dance to reach young audiences far and wide. The show follows a group of students forced to sit through a drug awareness assembly at school — bored at first, it’s not long before they begin to realize their own connections to the ongoing crisis.
What’s the story behind Painless?
In 2018, individuals from the organization Families Against Narcotics were interviewed. Their personal accounts were translated into song and became the foundation of Painless: The Opioid Musical.
Written by Jacob Ryan Smith with additional material provided by Peter Scattini and Noah Kierserman, the musical debuted with its first live performance in the winter of 2019. After a multi-year delay due to COVID-19, Painless will now begin touring Michigan high schools.
The first live performance for students was held in September of 2022 at Community High School in Ann Arbor. “Painless” and the performance were featured in a segment on The Today Show, highlighting the importance of the musical as a tool to engage teens in conversations about opioids.
Painless: The Opioid Musical – Trailer
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How can students see Painless?
We’ll bring Painless: The Opioid Musical to your high school. Along with a live performance, you’ll receive free resources designed to engage students, including teacher education, Michigan Model for Health module support, cast album with lyric sheet, and toolkit.
See Behind the Scenes Photos
Lead a discussion about Painless
Select one or more of these statistics to begin the discussion:
- Drug overdose is the number one cause of accidental death in the United States of America, with 70,237 lethal drug overdoses in 2017, alone.
- In 2018, two million people misused prescription opioids for the first time.
- Nearly half of young people who inject heroin start by misusing prescription pain medicines, which are opioids.
- Most adolescents who misuse prescription pain relievers are given them for free by a friend or relative.
- The numbers are alarming and show that everyone is at risk—this applies to each of you in this room.
Solicit students’ feedback on the statistics and encourage further conversation with questions such as:
- If a doctor prescribes a medication, can it be harmful?
- How would prescription misuse be defined?
- Were any of you aware that addiction can begin with just one pill, or of the connection between opioid use and heroin use?
Opioid misuse affects each person differently. The musical portrayed several lives which were affected by opioid use disorder; Boy in the Box and Hey Mr. Doc are two examples. Boy in the Box describes the person stealing from his mom to pay for his addiction and Hey Mr. Doc depicts a young woman going from doctor to doctor to feed her addiction. The following questions can be used to discuss the effects of opioid use:
- How did the musical portray the lives of the people suffering from opioid abuse disorder?
- How do you think an opioid addiction would interfere with your daily life?
- Are there any consequences individuals in the musical faced that you might be able to relate to (i.e. “so I missed the game, who cares, so what?”)?
This discussion point coincides with Lesson 10 in the MMH Unit 5: Alcohol, Tobacco, & Other Drugs.
In the musical, the first speaker tells the story of becoming addicted to opioids in high school, turning to opioids in an effort to be “painless.” Some of the responsibility for avoiding risk of opioid misuse lies on us as individuals.
Ask the students to respond to the idea of avoiding risk by using questions like:
- What would you do if you were prescribed opioids?
- Do you feel empowered to advocate for yourself if you are prescribed opioids?
- If your doctor were to prescribe you opioids, how could you ask questions about alternative treatments or medicines?
- What are some ways we can learn to better advocate for ourselves?
The musical talks about “living painfully” instead of numbing our feelings and experiences.
Talk about the concept of “living painfully” using questions like:
- What do you think it means to “live painfully”?
- What are some healthy ways we can deal with our pain instead of using opioids to numb us?
The musical ends with, “Together, we can tame this disease.” Substance abuse disorder is a disease, not a moral failing or character weakness.
Invite ideas from students about ending stigma and overcoming the disease with questions like:
- How can we as individuals make a difference?
- Did you know that substance use disorder is defined as a disease? How could referring to substance use as a disease help remove stigma?
- What are some ways we can help stop the stigma of substance use disorder?
Healthy recovery is possible—findtreatment.gov
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides quality, fact-based information about opioid misuse.
The mission of Partnership to End Addiction is to transform how the nation addresses addiction by empowering families, advancing effective care, shaping public policy, and changing culture.
The lead federal agency supporting scientific research on drug use and addiction, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offers research and training resources.
With 20+ chapters across Michigan, the mission of FAN is to offer community-based, compassionate, best-practice/evidence-based services to people who have been affected by addiction to erase the stigma of addiction while instilling compassion and hope.