It’s Just a Pill

An original staged musical that educates children and their families about the risks associated with opioids and substance misuse

Why do we need to educate school-aged children about the potential dangers of taking an opioid? Aren’t they too young for this kind of education? What’s the big deal anyway? It’s just a pill… isn’t it? Unfortunately, opioids are more than just pills. They can be highly addictive and dangerous, even when taken as prescribed for an injury or routine procedure.

Every day in North Carolina, four people die from a medication or drug overdose—usually an opioid. That’s a school bus full of people every month. Some of them are teenagers. Many are parents.

It is estimated that 50 percent of high school students have tried an illegal drug by their senior year. The majority of adults with a substance use disorder report they began using drugs before the age of 18.

The Children’s Musical

It’s Just a Pill is an original musical drama written and produced for school-aged children by UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC, a state leader in opioid misuse prevention and safe prescribing education and treatment with medication for opioid use disorder.

The one-hour professional production and supplemental curricula were developed to provide schools and communities in North Carolina with engaging, age-appropriate opioid prevention and awareness tools to support youth and their families.

Middle schools (6th – 8th grades) in predominantly rural areas across the state, where the opioid epidemic has hit the hardest, were selected for the spring 2019 tour and included Madison, Edgecombe, Nash, Wilson, Buncombe, and Henderson.

Cast of Characters

The story follows a young middle-school girl and her efforts to learn about the dangers of opioids at the same time the epidemic hits surprisingly close to home.

The script and lyrics were written by Melody Hays, a healthcare education planner at MAHEC who has a background in managing children’s productions at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, with input from MAHEC’s Chief Education Officer, Blake Fagan, MD, and behavioral health, school health, and parenting program specialists.

The musical score was produced by David Ruttenberg, a GRAMMY® producer who has worked with Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder, and Janet Jackson among others.

The play was directed by Bruce Hostetler, artistic director for the Portland Revels, a theater specializing in programming for children of all ages. The cast featured professional actors.

Spring 2019 Tour

The spring 2019 tour of It's Just a Pill reached 3,600 youth and 425 educators, parents, and community members across North Carolina. You can learn more about the play's first run in these news stories in the Mountain Xpress and on WLOS TV-13.

Appropriate for schools, libraries, drama teams, substance misuse prevention groups, churches, and more, the script is now available for use by anyone who wishes to independently produce and use the play. Click here for script and license information.

Funding Support

The initial costs associated with the play’s production, prevention toolkit, and spring 2019 tour were made possible through funding from an NC AHEC Innovation Grant, a SAMHSA Opioid STR Grant, The Glass Foundation, and individual donors.

Additional funding is being sought to expand distribution of the play to more schools and communities, particularly underserved rural communities.

Donate Now

For more information about It’s Just a Pill, please contact Melody Hays at

For more information about MAHEC’s other substance use initiatives, please click here.

Top Photo © Buncombe County Schools Communications