SPARTA, NJ-There were more than 250 people in the audience on Monday night for the Time to Act program at Sparta Middle School. Parents, students and community members filled the room to learn about latest trends in substance abuse from a variety of speakers.
Sparta resident Mary Burns lost her son Eric to addiction. About participating in this program, she said, "The one thing that I can tell you is that I just feel that I need to do something to give meaning to Eric's death. I also really feel that kids, in particular, need to hear stories like this so that maybe they will think twice before using drugs and alcohol. I wanted those in attendance to understand that addiction is often not something that happens over night. Often, like in the case of my son, it is due to many years of internal pain. The drugs in the beginning may make a person feel better, but of course, once addiction takes hold that is no longer the case. Also, I wanted those in attendance, especially the kids, to understand that once addiction takes hold that the drugs take over a person's brain. An addict can only think about drugs. Their whole life revolves around drugs. Lastly, I wanted them to understand that addiction is life-long. It never goes away and an addict must fight it every day for the rest of their life."
Doug Collier is a former DEA agent and currently works in the office of the Attorney General as Drug Initiative Coordinator. He brought his 30 years of experience to the stage. He echoed the sentiment expressed by Burns, "The three most dangerous words you can say as a parent are 'Not my child.'"
Collier felt strongly that programs like It's Time to Act belong at the middle school level because that is when the decision making process begins. His background as a DEA agent gives him the credibility with the students to be able to sift through what they hear on the street to know what is reality and what it simply perception.
Additionally Collier feels strongly that parents need to understand that they still have considerable influence over the behavior of their pre and young teens. "Children this age," he shares, "learn by watching." They see how parents use, and sometimes misuse, alcohol and prescription drugs. They model what they see. Further, Collier shared a study by the Partnership for a Drug Free America. "When asked why they did not use drugs, the answer most given by adolescents was that they did not want to disappoint their parents."
Collier in adamant that he "believes in good medicine but doesn't believe in bad behavior." One of the most prevalent trends in substance abuse begins with the family medicine cabinet. The feeling of the adolescent is that it is safe because it is from a doctor; It's just a pill. However, when the free supply runs out and they now have a serious expensive addiction, the next step is likely to go to heroine. It is far less expensive, easily accessible and much more potent, taking away the stigma of the need to use needles at first.
Citing another study by the National Institute of Drug Abuse Collier explained, "The adolescent brain is going through a period of intensive growth. The brain is very active. It is making so many new connections during this time that it is therefore much more vulnerable to addiction and potential harm from drug use."
The Center for Prevention and Counseling has been sponsoring awareness and educational programs in Sussex county for forty years. They also provide resources to families struggling with substance abuse and addiction.
Becky Carlson from the Center said, "There have been over 180 overdose deaths in the last 13 years in Sussex County. Heroin, prescription drugs or a combination of the two were the main cause. Nationally there is an epidemic being seen with substance abuse involving opiates and Sussex County has the same trend happening here. As a county, we need everyone to work together to address this growing problem by educating and creating awareness about the signs, symptoms and trends and then getting people to move to action to make a difference. A bag of heroin is cheaper than a pack of cigarettes and easily available."
"The program presented at Sparta Middle school helped to connect youth and parents so they can be on the same page about drugs. We hope this model can be used around the county as kids know more than parents and are being exposed at a younger age to drugs than ever before. Every parent’s worst fear is hearing what Mary Burns heard when they called to tell her that her son was dead due to an overdose. We thank Mary for sharing her son Eric’s story with the goal of making a difference to the youth and parents in attendance so they could be spared what Mary and her family had to and continue to endure."
Sparta Municipal Alliance Resource Team will be sponsoring two additional age-appropriate programs to address the issue of underage drinking and drug abuse on April 1 at Helen Morgan and Reverend Brown elementary schools. The program for fifth grade students and parents is called Too Smart to Start.
This program was presented by the Center for Prevention and Counseling's Coalition for Healthy and Safe Communities along with the Sparta Police Department and Sparta School District, Sparta Ecumenical Council, Sparta Municipal Alliance Resource Team, Sussex County Municipal Alliance, Newton Medical Center and Treatment Dynamics.
Resources can be found at The Center for Prevention and Counseling http://www.centerforprevention.org/