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'Haunted Crack House' shows scary dangers of drug use

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., -- Tech. Sgt. John Arensmeyer measures dry-wall Oct. 15 to be used for partitions inside the Haunted Crack House.
U.S. Air Force photo/ Steve Berry

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Tech. Sgt. John Arensmeyer measures dry-wall Oct. 15 to be used for partitions inside the Haunted Crack House. U.S. Air Force photo/ Steve Berry

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Capt. Eric Johnson's experience as a 13 year old helping with a drug abuse prevention program called the "Haunted Crack House Project" was a pivotal moment for him.
Now, 20 years later, Captain Johnson is leading the newest creation of the Haunted Crack House at 4051 E. Highway 161, in the old Shiloh Valley Grange building. The location is directly south of Scott. 

The Haunted Crack House Project started in 1989. It was the creation of Centreville, Maryland's police chief trying to combine Red Ribbon Week, National Crime Control Prevention Month and Halloween into one community event. The young Eric played a role in the original production and would continue to be involved with other versions of the drug prevention program in other states. 

Captain Johnson works in the 375th Air Mobility Wing at Scott as an Operational Plans officer, but is leading the project in volunteer capacity as the executive director.
"If I was blessed 20 years ago to have my life saved by something like this--and I know it works, and I know how much fun it is for the community to come together to do it--why not?" he said. 

The Haunted Crack House leads people on a haunted house-style tour of various scenes depicting the troubled life of fictional drug addicted teen Liz and her boyfriend Mark. The interactive theater is intended to show teens the horrors of drug addiction and prevent drug abuse. Captain Johnson said the Haunted Crack House is not simply scare tactics, but uses research-based approaches to prevention. 

Captain Johnson is a Certified Prevention Specialist who has worked at the county and state levels in Maryland and Texas. 

He said the Haunted Crack House team consulted with more than 80 local organizations to determine the specifics of the metro-east's drug problems. 

"Before we started hammering any nails or designing sets we performed an exhaustive community profile where we basically assessed the hard and soft data," he said.
The Haunted Crack House team interviewed local police officers, EMS personnel and judges. They also talked with high school and college students in addition to examining arrest and drug treatment program admission data. 

Captain Johnson said they determined alcohol, marijuana, crystal methamphetamine and prescription pills to be the most problematic drugs in the metro-east, and have tailored the Haunted Crack House accordingly. 

Volunteers in the house will act out scenes of a drug bust, court sentencing, jail time, a drug fueled family dispute, a teenage pill party, overdose, EMS response and funeral.
The court sentencing scene will feature actual St. Clair County judges, and when viewers walk into the following room they will see and hear a St. Clair County inmate in a guarded cell deliver a short testimonial about the ways drug abuse have impacted their life. 

Captain Johnson said the realism of the Haunted Crack House affects not only those who take the tour, but also the teenagers and young adults staffing the project. 

"I really believe in the power of prevention and getting young people involved in something healthy and innovative like this," he said. "I think this helps people when they come see it, but the greater blessing is that the young people who act in it, and really get passionate about it--those are the ones that really get helped. They are the ones who build further resilience to be able to fight the allure of using drugs and alcohol." 

Captain Johnson said there are more than 200 volunteers participating. 

"This would not be possible without several hundred people coming forward are really stepping up," he said. 

The Haunted Crack House is attempting to move 1,000 people through the home per night. Five hundred tickets per night will be sold in advance and 500 tickets will be available at the door. Ticket information is available at www.hauntedcrackhouse.com, or by calling 402-4249. The Haunted Crack House is open to the public from 7-11 p.m., Tuesday and Oct. 29 and 30. Admission is $2.