Hundreds of Middlesex County residents learned from experts but also shared their concerns on the opioid epidemic ravaging the state at Tuesday’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall hosted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ) at the Jo Ann Magistro Performing Arts Center at Hammarskjold Middle School.
The event was the 13th town hall in a series organized by PDFNJ and the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey to focus on the link between prescription drug dependency and heroin abuse.
A discussion panel moderated by 1450 WCTC host and New Jersey Broadcasters Association Hall of Famer Bert Baron covered all aspects of the crisis gripping New Jersey. Speakers on the panel included Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey; New Jersey State Senator Joseph Vitale (D – Middlesex); Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D – Middlesex); Vanessa Vitolo, outreach coordinator with Victory Bay Recovery Center; and Bonnie Nolan, addiction services coordinator for Woodbridge Township.
“There are no easy answers,” PDFNJ Executive Director Angelo Valente said. “It is necessary for all of us to work together as a community to try to come up with ways to eradicate this epidemic.”
In 2016, an estimated 2,000 people in New Jersey died of an opioid overdose. Throughout the country, more than 64,000 people died of drug overdoses.
Opioid addiction has emerged as a major issue in recent decades due to the overprescription and misuse of painkillers, which has been linked to increased heroin use.
“Prescription drugs are a lot of times the gateway drug. Addiction starts at the pharmacy instead of the back alley,” Carey said. “Community forums like this where we work together are very important.”
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Wellspring Center for Prevention, the East Brunswick Alliance for the Prevention of Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, East Brunswick Public Schools and 1450 WCTC served as collaborating partners for the town hall.
“This is an epidemic that has taken years to get to where it is today,” said Vitale, who serves as the Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “This issue is not going away until enough people are in treatment and recovery and we began to reduce the demand.”
Photos of the event are available upon request. For more information on the Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall Series, visit knockoutopioidabuse.drugfreenj.org.
Best known for its statewide anti-drug advertising campaign, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey is a private not-for-profit coalition of professionals from the communications, corporate and government communities whose collective mission is to reduce demand for illicit drugs in New Jersey through media communication. To date, more than $70 million in broadcast time and print space has been donated to the Partnership’s New Jersey campaign, making it the largest public service advertising campaign in New Jersey’s history. Since its inception, the Partnership has garnered 166 advertising and public relations awards from national, regional and statewide media organizations.