Chaplain Michael Buhler’s play Overdose, about the opioid and addictions crisis, is performed by students from Timmins, Ont.’s O’Gorman Catholic High School. Photo courtesy Michael Buhler

Faith and reality confront addiction

  • May 10, 2023

Lay-chaplain Michael Buhler sees the effects of addiction each day on the rough downtown streets of Timmins, Ont.

“In Timmins, there is a large problem with addiction,” said the chaplain with the Northeastern Catholic District School Board. “Walking downtown every day with my dog, I came to know drug addicts. The fentanyl and opioid crisis is deeply changing our city.”

These daily encounters have spawned an award-winning play that Buhler wrote, Overdose, that he hopes will offer a fresh perspective on the drug crisis.

“The issue of the opioid crisis needs to be engaged,” said Buhler. “I am here to humanize the person who is addicted, which is where incorporating the Catholic faith has a real advantage. A person with faith has more of an instinct of the dignity of a human being. They are able to wonder at the depth and mystery of a human.”

The play — which ties together issues of drugs, addictions and overdoses with aspects of the Christian faith — and its acting troupe from Timmins’ O’Gorman Catholic High School won best performance at the recent National Theatre School Drama Festival in North Bay, Ont., and was performed in Toronto at the University of Toronto’s Hart House on May 11.

While a Jesus-figure is prominently featured in the script, it is not “the traditional Jesus that we come to know in the Church.”

“I am trying to explore grace and salvation for a segment of our population that is very much in the periphery. How does grace work in this world? How does God make Himself present?” said Buhler.

Student actor Corey Friday plays the role of a homeless individual known as the “Man.” Friday says the play directly speaks to problems in our contemporary day and age.

“There are many people who suffer from addictions now. This play can be a chance for them to reach out. It gives the assurance that you matter in this crisis and that it’s okay to be suffering in this issue,” he said.

Sixteen-year-old Kaleb Proulx, who plays Grover, a fiercely conflicted drug addict, says that while the play’s content is mature, it’s important that the subject matter is explored in a way that young teens will be able to understand.

“I think it’s amazing that we’re doing it in high school because the opioid crisis affects everyone,” said Proulx. “I have to deal with people who are addicted when I go to work and when I am on the streets. We need to realize the true severity of how these addicts are living and what’s going to help them. These people haven’t thrown their lives away, they just need help.”

 For Friday, the script’s attention to the reality of drug addiction touches upon a personal chord. For a time his mother suffered from an addiction to speed. 

“I kept on thinking about my past because the play reminded me of my mother. There were times where I had to step out when I was acting,” said the Grade 11 student.

Acting in the play was a seminal experience for Friday.

“I found myself being closer and nicer to people who suffer from addictions. I used to think that they don’t deserve to be forgiven because it was their choice to start taking drugs in the first place. However, I realized that maybe these people didn’t have the help they needed in the first place. I thought I should be nice and kinder, because it wasn’t their fault.”

The unique blend of faith and reality is what Buhler — who has been a chaplain for nearly 25 years — hopes will capture the audience.

“The Jesus figure calls the main character — an addict — who is about to die by name. In the end, he rejects Jesus, closing himself off to grace. He would desperately like to follow Jesus, but he can’t because the addiction has too much of a hold on him. This is a tragedy for all human beings, but we can take that first step with faith,” he said.

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