A Critical Forum for Parents & Teens
The abuse of and addiction to opioids such as heroin and prescription pain relievers has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Opioids are a class of highly addictive, chemically similar drugs that include prescription painkillers as well as heroin and morphine, all of which act on the brain’s pain receptors, producing an analgesic effect. The drugs also target the brain’s reward center producing feelings of euphoria, which makes them highly susceptible to misuse and abuse. Their close chemical makeup means the brain cannot differentiate between the legally prescribed opiates and their illicit counterparts. Studies have suggested that this close chemical relationship is at the root of the explosion in heroin abuse as users seek to replace their painkillers once they are no longer able to legally obtain prescriptions. A recent survey of heroin users found four in five started by misusing prescription painkillers. The more than 300 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers written last year coupled with the drugs' high potential for abuse has fueled an epidemic for which the implications are catastrophic.
Recent estimates place the number of Americans illicitly using opioids at 4 million, with 2.5 million addicted. The numbers are climbing, however, and the consequences have been devastating. The Drug Enforcement Agency announced in 2015 that for the first-time drug overdoses surpassed motor vehicle deaths as the leading cause of accidental death in the country. More than half of the 55,403 lethal drug overdoses reported that year were caused by prescription opioids and heroin – a five-fold increase since 2002. In New Jersey, the statistics are even more alarming.
“The rate of overdose deaths attributed to heroin nationwide is 2.6 per 100,000 people,” said Superintendent of Schools Vincent S. Smith. “In New Jersey, the rate is 8.3 deaths per 100,000 people, that’s three times the national average and doesn’t even account for fatal overdoses caused by prescription opioids.
"Since 2010, the number of heroin-related overdose deaths in the state has more than doubled, despite the widespread use of Narcan, a first response treatment for overdose.”
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control report, heroin now eclipses homicide, suicide, car accidents and AIDS as a leading cause of death in New Jersey.
These frightening statistics coupled with a number of recent overdoses that have affected local families has inspired the Point Pleasant Borough School District to aggressively target this growing epidemic. On Wed. Jan. 18, the district hosted critical forum for parents and teens entitled Heroin: A Crisis at the Jersey Shore.School district administrators joined law enforcement officials and local health experts for a critical discussion on the growing epidemic of opioid and heroin use in our area. Guests in attendance at the forum learned about the risk factors for drug abuse, the warning signs associated with opioid use, the consequences of drug use, and the resources that are available in our area. They also heard tips on drug use prevention. Attendees learned about the specific educational efforts aimed at preventing illicit drug use employed by the Point Pleasant Borough School District and heard heartrending stories from families and individuals whose lives have been affected by heroin before having their questions answered by the experts during a Q&A session.
- Vincent S. Smith Superintendent, Point Pleasant Borough Schools
- Jim Foley Student Assistance Counselor, Point Pleasant Borough Schools
- Joseph Coronato Ocean County Prosecutor
- Anthony Pierro Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor
- Lt. Det. Adam Picca School Liaison, Point Pleasant Police Department
- Dave Scalabrini Juvenile Detective, Point Pleasant Police Department
- Kimberly Reilly County Alcoholism Coordinator, Ocean County Health Department
- Beth Wisniewski PPBHS Class of ’09, Sister of Overdose Victim
- Angela Cicchino, Recovery Specialist
“Though our district has historically taken a proactive approach to substance abuse education in our schools, blending targeted educational programs with age-appropriate assemblies and outreaches as well as initiatives like Heroes and Cool Kids, the Student Ambassadors program and the Youth Wellness Council, all of which help promote general health and wellness among students and help them to develop good habits and positive coping strategies, I believe we must do more,” said Superintendent Smith. “There seems to be a persistent misperception that the use of opioids and specifically heroin is not a problem in our area. Unfortunately, a number of recent incidents have proven that is not the case.
“Drug abuse is affecting more and more families here in our community,” he said. “The Opioid forum facilitated the start of a dialogue on what we, as a community, can do to protect our children from becoming statistics.”
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