November 30, 2022

The Today Show features U-M musical about the risks of opioid use

The musical — developed by U-M's OPEN, Precision Health, and School of Music, Theatre & Dance — will tour Michigan high schools this spring.

A new musical developed by OPEN — the Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network — and the University of Michigan's Precision Health and School of Music, Theatre & Dance gained national attention this month for its unique approach to warning teens about the risks of opioid use. Painless: The Opioid Musical was featured on The Today Show on November 25.


School of Music, Theatre and Dance students perform Painless: The Musical. Watch the Today Show segment about the musical.

The musical is inspired by true stories shared by members of Families Against Narcotics — stories from teens and their families who have been affected by the opioid crisis. Written by SMTD alumnus Jacob Ryan Smith when he was a U-M undergraduate student and performed by current SMTD students, Painless is designed with a teenage audience in mind.

That was intentional from the beginning of the musical’s development in 2018, according to Chad Brummett, M.D., co-director of OPEN and associate chair for research in the Department of Anesthesiology. 

Brummett talks to a variety of audiences about the risks of opioids through his role within OPEN, including doctors, patients, educators and legislators. But conversations he had with high school students — conversations where the overwhelming majority said they could get access to opioids within an hour — had him brainstorming ideas to better connect the message with the audience.

"I'm passionate about going into high schools and middle schools and teaching them about the risks of opioids and the importance of avoiding misuse and illicit use of opioids. But I realized maybe ‘Old Man Brummett’ isn't always the best person to teach teens about risk," he said.

“Partnering with SMTD’s former chair Vincent Cardinal gave us an opportunity to try something new, to see our U-M students use music and musical theater to tell real stories in a really compelling way.” 

The Today Show's Harry Smith was on hand in September for a performance at Ann Arbor's Community High School, the first live performance in front of a student audience after COVID-19 delayed the musical’s debut. Smith said he was skeptical that the musical's messaging would resonate with teenagers, but the performance changed his mind. "To see it performed and to see how people react to it — there are some real powerful connections going on there," he said during the segment.

The OPEN team plans to schedule performances of the musical at high schools across the state this spring. They're also working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to use the musical as a supplemental tool for its Michigan Model for Health curriculum. Throughout the project, OPEN will work with the School of Nursing’s Sarah Stoddard, Ph.D., to measure the effectiveness of the tools in engaging teens and preventing opioid use.

"This has been an incredible opportunity to work with so many dedicated and talented people across the university and in the community," Brummett said. "To be able to take medical research and translate that into the arts — that's when we know we're leveraging the full breadth of our campus to make a meaningful impact."

Learn more about Painless: The Opioid Musical, including where to stream its music and download learning materials.