How one Kent State student is fighting the heroin epidemic

Emelia Sherin is a Kent State public relations major full of spunk and motivation. After seeing how the heroin epidemic has impacted the nation, and North East Ohio specifically, she felt compelled to do something

Sherin sat down with Her Campus Kent State to give a very open and honest interview discussing her experience creating a play that tackles such a difficult and relevant topic.

“InDependent: The Heroin Project” was performed at the Akron Civic Theater in early August. The show itself features a drag queen, a father of two children and many other diverse characters. Sherin also chose to make heroin itself a character, a temptress of sorts. Through hard work and an open mind, Sherin broke down boundaries and educated the public on an epidemic that hits close to home, and could be affecting your own friends and family.

Twitter handle: @emeliasherin

Favorite junk food? Cheeseburgers

Past work experience: A whole year spent performing with Disney Cruise Lines!

Where do you see yourself in five years? I see myself happy, genuinely content with life, and working toward new goals.


Her Campus: What was the timeline of this project? What inspired you to start writing this play?

Emelia Sherin: Actually, I didn’t think I’d write a play about this until November, 2016. In September I started research about addiction, because, basically, the East Liverpool picture, It was published in September 2016. I was so pissed off, I really was. I’m familiar with the addiction community. I grew up in a house of recovery. One of my family members is in recovery 30 years, and they are the light of my life. They are so wise and are such a genuine, good person. They raised my brother and I to know what being a good person is about, to always be loyal, humble and give the upmost respect to everyone. It does not matter. The only thing that matters is the personality you have and the respect you give to others. That’s the problem. When it came to this photo there was none of that. And that’s great, from a public relations perspective. It blew up and spread awareness and got people talking, and showed them what was really happening within the heroin epidemic. However, It didn’t show the other side of addiction. Because there are two sides, the most vulnerable side, where it’s the lowest point of your life, hence that photo, and then you have a transition phase. And the transition is when you are trying to come clean, and you are finally finding yourself within something that isn’t just a substance.  They caught them at their most vulnerable state. They are continuing to stereotype addicts. They’re (the media) are sticking this stigma to something not everyone is educated on, and that is the problem, education. So that is what I started to do: Educating myself.


HC: So how did you gather the knowledge and intellect that it took to put together a play about such a sensitive and detailed topic?

ES: I wanted to understand the epidemic from the inside out. I studied different rehabilitation facilities and recovery centers just in North East Ohio. I even reached out to those rehabilitation facilities. I just started talking to people. I didn’t even mean to interview them, I just started talking to them and writing stuff down. I did it so I could teach myself.

                                                                        Sherin pictured above with her Big, who she noted as being the most zen person she knows. 

HC: Where these people hesitant about speaking with you?

ES: Some were hesitant because they were strangers, or because it is currently happening to them right now. One of my friends for example, they are a current addict, and they have never mustered up the confidence within themselves to confront themselves about their addiction. So I did it, I was that bitch. They were very hesitant about it. So I told them “I’ll give you two days, let me know.” They emailed me the next day and were ready to talk. We met in some dinky diner in downtown Warren, and without knowing them I twelve stepped them. And the next week they are in a rehabilitation center for detox. And now, they’re undergoing transition to recovery. I think they are about six months clean now! So that meant the world to me, because I love them with all my heart, and it really breaks me down knowing this stuff is happening to our friends! Our friends! People we grew up with and did extracurricular activities with!


HC: What is the biggest mistake people are making when confronting their friends struggling with addiction?

ES: There is a huge difference between just sitting down and talking, and sitting down and judging someone. You can’t do that. You have to sit down and say “Why do you do it? Do you know what it does to you? Why does it make you feel that way? Why do you think you need it?”

                                                                                                                                Sherin at rehearsal 

HC: After this research and learning period, how did a play come out of all your newfound knowledge?

ES: After a couple months, I was like, what am I going to do with all of this? The media is shining the wrong light on this issue. They are telling you death and overdose rates are rising, but what do you do to help? Where can they get treatment? I kept thinking, I have no idea how to reach out to people. Then I was like “Emelia, you’re an idiot. Theater!”


HC: Out of all the forms of artistic expression, why did you decide on making a theatrical production? 

ES: it’s personable, it’s communication! You are feeling the atmosphere the actors are giving off. You are engaged in the situation. You are a witness. That is why I made it into a play, I wanted people to witness the situation.


HC: Have you always been a writer?

ES: Growing up I wrote a lot of poetry, I was a very emotional person. It was my outlet. My first semester of college I was an emotional wreck. I did not want to be there. I didn’t want anything to do with it. No one in my classes would talk to me, because they thought I talked too much. I was like, “yeah, I do! Because I know the answer!” I had the hardest time making friends. You have no control! When it came to writing, it was my leash. I started writing scenes in November, and didn’t really stop until February. I had six scenes written and an entire outline of the show.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Sherin and Manthey backstage during a performance 

HC: How did you meet your co-writer?

ES: My second semester I sat next to this kid names Zach Manthey. We met in communications class. I sat next to him and he was always on his laptop writing, so I was like “what the hell are you writing?” and he was like, “I’m writing a play!” So I asked him to help me finish it. We locked ourselves in my apartment in May for three days straight, and finished the show. We did it with nothing but pizza fire coupons and John Mulaney.  


HC: Besides the actual writing and producing of the play itself, what else did you do to help addicts?

ES: I knew this was the emotional and mental perspective, then I wondered what else I could do. So I thought, why not collect different pamphlets from different rehabilitation centers across North East Ohio and put them at a table. That would then cover answering “well where should I get help?” at the end of the show. We also asked the theater and the director to donate all proceeds and extra donations to the Oriana house, which was the closest rehabilitation center to the Civic. We collected toiletries, and they were so thankful. We are giving back to the community that has been going through hell and back through this epidemic. This play is truly a form of artistic activism.


HC: Will Kent State students get a chance to see this show again?

ES: Yes! It’ll be back at the Akron Civic Theater in early 2018.

                                                                                                                       Promotional poster for Sherin's play 

HC: How do you see this experience helping your future career? Did your skills as a public relations student help you through this process?

ES: With a topic like this, you have to be original, creative and understand that form of advocacy and what you are fighting for to assist your client. My client happened to be the heroin epidemic. As a public relations major and a human being, I felt like this was something I was meant to do.


HC: as a bust college student, how did you balance everything?

ES: I prioritized a lot for this show. School and work was first, and then the show was right there. I always carried little note cards with me so if I had an idea, I could write it down quick and come back to it later. I would think, okay after work I’m going to write. With writing, I wouldn’t sit down and make time for it, it would come to me. I always had my note cards with me to write something on. I always make sure to get my personal work done first. We are paying for school, so that gets done first. Work helps me pay for school, so that comes next. Not saying it was last on my list, but it was always right there in the shadows. Whenever I had time I would sneak it in there.


Q: What has been the craziest thing to come out of this? Chris Columbus contacted me. Who has worked on movies like "The Goonies", "Home Alone" and "Rent". My interview with The New York Times was also really crazy. I still don’t think any of this is real, I think I’m being punked if I’m being honest.

                                                                                                                      Sherin throwing what she knows! 

On campus, you can find Emelia involved in the following activities; Sigma Delta Tau sorority, Black Squirrel Radio, Golden reflections Dance Team, PRSSA and Under Graduate Student Graduate PR committee