How Do We Connect to Gen Z

How Music Can Help Heal Wounds of Addiction:

How Do We Connect to Generation Z – How to Get Them to Care



Gen Z is composed of socially-aware, technologically-savvy young people. Unfortunately, society sometimes tends to ignore or even silence these bright minds and voices. In this presentation, Nicole Dupré of Opera del Sol discusses the importance of bringing Gen Z in on the opioid crisis conversation, as it’s one that affects people of all demographics. Her organization’s approach uses music to speak with audiences of all ages and backgrounds, and her ultimate advice is to simply be honest and try to connect.

Presentation Materials:

Presenters & Powerpoint:
  • Nicole Dupre, founder and creative director of Opera de Sol
  • Theresa Smith-Levin, executive director of Opera de Sol
  • Nishaa Johnson, artistic director of Opera de Sol

How Do We Connect with Gen Z Presentation


Welcome to the Community Education Series, hosted by The Recovery Village and Advanced Recovery Systems.

Thank you so much, everyone, for joining me today. Welcome to our series of how music can help heal the wounds of addiction. If you have joined us over the last two weeks, I started our series off by telling you a little bit about myself and why I created the organization Opera del Sol, but then also how I transitioned into the passion I have now for helping others and helping people through the opioid crisis. I, myself, lost my ex-husband after years and years of his battle with drug addiction and with opioids, and he passed away in 2017.

And that was right at the same time that I had three weeks before my launch party for Opera del Sol, so in some ways, awkward also. What we have done for the last three years is that we have used opera and music in it and the performing arts as a way to connect with our community here. We like to do that.

So what we have done over the last three years is use music to tell different stories throughout the community. We have partnered with local organizations like Lynx Buses and SunRail Trains, where we can bring music to those people that may not necessarily experience it. We have really been passionate about how music can just transcend and how it can connect universally with so many different people.

When I started becoming passionate about Project Opioid and the opioid crisis, it was because last year, we wrote an original script for a show called Requiem. It followed a woman, a young, 21-year-old girl’s path, through addiction and, ultimately, how it cost her her life. When we were going through that, we were getting a data study that in 2017 — just incredible numbers. Just how the opioid crisis is increasing not just every year now, but now because of COVID, it is increasing massively each month. And so I just became increasingly passionate. And now, I am Partnerships Director with a local organization called Project Opioid, where we have brought together about 120 local leaders. We meet and try to come up with different ways on how we can help with legislation, how we can help with resources and really figure out how we can, as a community, make an impact.

I chose this topic this week because opioids are the No. 1 killer for those underneath 40, and with COVID-19, it is driving the opioid crisis. The numbers that were published in May showed that we had a 42% increase in opioids in May of 2020 as opposed to 2019. And actually, Governor DeSantis, the governor of Florida, did a press conference a few weeks ago where he said in July, Florida’s numbers saw a 51% increase in drug overdoses. That is because we are at home. We are feeling isolated and socially distant.

That’s not just here in Central Florida. I know that a lot of you are tuning in throughout America, and I know that this is affecting the entire nation; these were just a few headlines that I pulled, and these are only for the last few days. This is what the crisis is, something that isn’t just an age, a race, a gender or a community. It’s health, it’s affecting everyone. So today, I just wanted to go and talk a little bit more about how to care and how to connect with Gen Z.

So, I had just mentioned opioid overdoses are the No. 1 killer in those under 40. It’s now surpassed car accidents, if you can believe that. Gen Z (and also right now, everybody) is in isolation and in quarantine. They are feeling alone and disconnected from their peers and feeling more lonely than they had in the past. So, Gen Z is this generation where they are constantly attached to their telephones. They are constantly connected and, you know, that does something. I think that this is a generation that’s much different than us. I know that I didn’t even get a cell phone until I graduated high school. To be able to now live in a day and an age/// I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a 13-year-old and constantly connected.

What I have seen and what we have done here at Project Opioid is, recently, we partnered with Orange County. I oversaw a campaign that they have actually just put out, and they have used data and analytics and they have targeted, and they’ve done a lot of mailers where they are meeting these students and mailing it to where they’re living and connecting. I say we need to meet them where they are. When it comes to Gen Z, you might think that they don’t care about things. But honestly, despite what some may think, Gen Z are the most passionate about today’s issues: you know, climate change, social justice in today’s political environment. They are so incredibly passionate about what’s going on. And I think that there is something to be said about that energy and how we can connect with them when it comes to something that is such a crisis as we are right now.

But then we also have — again, it being connected — here we are. They are a generation that wants social justice and they want climate change, but then they are also with social media glorifying drug use. We have a Gen Z, her name is Mary, that works with us, and she oversees our intern program. I did a little bit of interviewing with her and she was saying, “You’d be very surprised that even on social media and TikTok, there are challenges and everything that are actually geared towards drug use.”

This is where I think that this is where the No. 1 issue (not just for Gen Z, but for the crisis in general and those that are suffering from addiction) is this stigma. We say the stigma isolates people and it discourages people from coming forward for treatment. Then, sometimes, it can lead clinicians, knowing or unknowingly, to resist delivering evidence-based treatment services. What I have noticed is that when it comes to stigma, we tend to judge or we feel like we are going to be judged. So, how do we even get rid of stigma? Well, I think the first thing that we need to do when we are speaking to this generation is we need to be honest. Be honest, and what I mean by that is be honest if you don’t know. If you don’t know what heroin is, or opioids are, what fentanyl is, or what they may be into, or what the slang is. Be honest. This is a generation where they have had the internet their entire life. They can look up information. They want to know answers, and if you don’t know something, be honest with them. You know, treat them like an equal.

Mary, when I was interviewing, was like, “Treat me like you would your co-worker. Talk to me like a person. Don’t talk down to me, because I have information at my fingertips and I don’t need to be spoken down to.” That leads into, you know, having real conversations, and I think that means show the numbers. I think that we need to talk openly and honestly about how this is a crisis. In the month of July, we were up 51% in overdoses. The month before, we were at 49 — like, in the 40s. It’s going up 10% to 11% every single month, and we need to be honest. It’s not about scaring them, but it’s also that we cannot hide our fear. I think that when it comes to climate change, when it comes to social injustice, it is a part of that fear that really is driving this generation to want to make change. And I think the more that we can have honest conversations, show them the numbers, I bet you most of Gen Z do not know that overdoses are the No. 1 killer under 40. And I think that that is, again, not scaring them, but don’t hide the fear.

I also believe that, you know, define unique ways to connect. Maybe conversations aren’t always easy. Now, for me and what my organization has found is that music has been a really incredible way for us to take really, really heavy subjects. Whether it’s about drug addiction, whether it’s about social injustice, whether it’s about subjects like that, music has this way to connect with everyone. What I love so much about music, and not just opera: have you ever met one person that doesn’t have a favorite song? Because something inside of everyone loves music. So we had wrote this show called Requiem, and we took some opera classics and some pop classics and mashed them together to tell this musical journey of this woman’s path through her life and through addiction.

What I wanted to share with you today was a snippet from that production and kind of show you a song that we did that is in the show. I was going to show you one of the songs that we did, Evanescence, but I thought that the song “Creep” by Radiohead that we have done
fits a little bit more into kind of what we’re talking about. When you hear this next song, I’d like you to kind of listen to the words and just really get lost into how the music makes you feel. My hope is once social distancing ends, we’re allowed to get into the theater again so that people can experience music and can experience live entertainment again. Because sometimes, it’s not just about being entertained — it’s about how it can make you feel. We are really passionate about this particular song, and we mash it together with a little bit of classic and a little bit of twist. So without further ado, I’d like to play this song for you. It’s our rendition of “Creep.”

(Man singing)
When you were here before,
couldn’t look you in the eyes.
Just like an angel,
your skin makes me cry.
You float like a feather,
in a beautiful world.
I wish I was special.
You’re so very special.
But I’m a creep,
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here
I don’t care if it hurts
I want to have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice
When I am not around
You’re so very special
I wish I was special
But I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here

(Man and choir singing)
She’s running out
She runs
Run, run, run, run

(Woman singing)
Wake me up inside
Wake me up inside
Save me

(Man singing)
Whatever makes you happy

(Woman singing)
Wake me up inside

(Man singing)
Whatever you want

(Woman singing)
Wake me up inside

(Man singing)
You’re so very special

(Woman singing)
Call my name

(Man singing)
I wish I was special

(Woman singing)
And save me

(Singing ends)

I’m just so passionate about taking music and kind of merging them and creating an original arrangement to be able to tell a story and to really convey emotions and just an entire story. So Requiem is based on, if you are familiar with classical music, Mozart. He has a very famous piece called “Requiem,” and Requiem actually kind of means the preliminary token of remembrance. Sometimes, it really means — it’s a musical piece that’s played a lot of funerals. We felt that it was a very, very fitting name for such a heavy type of show that we were doing. I’m really passionate about this because I feel that when we do have that opportunity to be able to share this with people, they’re going to be able to connect, even if they are not necessarily classical music lovers or maybe not as well-versed in music. Or if you don’t go out as much, you know. Our whole goal at Opera del Sol is to do shows and to sing music that connects and to make people feel things. So, thank you for listening to that particular song.

Not only is it about you having those conversations, trying to find unique ways to connect — whether it’s finding music, attending some sort of performing arts or doing something that helps to pull the emotion out of you. It’s also great to try to find resources near you. If you are in the Central Florida area, if you wanted to find links to resource centers, if you’d like to find out where you can get free Narcan, naloxone sent to you, there’s a lot of different places that you can look. And I think that when I was putting this together and over the last few months, as I’m trying to research for my new role, there are starting to be a lot of resources out there. Now that this is affecting the majority of America, there are articles every single day about different ways in different communities across the United States are trying to help and trying to reduce these overdoses.

So, that was my last little piece of advice, to look in your area. Because now, it’s not like it was for me eight years ago when I was going through, at the time, my husband’s addiction. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I didn’t have resources, and I didn’t know how to talk to people because times were different. And now, the increase in opioids — there’s thousands and thousands of families now that know what this feels like, and it’s affecting everyone. So, that was my presentation on how we are using music and how we feel that that’s some ways that you can connect with Gen Z.

I’m very thankful for you all doing it from all across the country today and spending your time with me. I truly appreciate it.

Thank you for watching this video. We hope you enjoyed the presentation.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.