RARITAN TWP., NJ - Local experts on the opioid epidemic addressed its devastating local impact at a Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall yesterday.

The event, co-sponsored by Hunterdon Healthcare and held at Hunterdon Central High School, included remarks from Hunterdon Healthcare CEO Patrick Gavin and Hunterdon County Prosecutor Michael Williams.

A panel discussion included Public Health Analyst Nava Bastola; Hunterdon Medical Center physician Dr. Nimish Mehta; Greg Rearick of Hunterdon Behavioral Health; Hunterdon Central High School Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Moore; and Lesley Gabel, who is the Co-Director and CEO of Hunterdon Prevention Resources.

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Prior to the town hall, a representative from the Drug Enforcement Administration /New Jersey Division, set up a Hidden in Plain Sight presentation, which portrayed a mock teenage bedroom with everyday items that can actually be indicators of drug use or risky behavior.

Speakers discussed what efforts are being made to address the epidemic, including programs available for those in need of treatment and what is being done to help support youth who are vulnerable to substance use and abuse issues.

“With so many overdoses occurring across New Jersey, the need for prompt, compassionate, evidence-based intervention is necessary and essential,” said Gavin.

Hunterdon Healthcare’s Opioid Overdose Recovery Program, supported by a grant from the state Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, helps release individuals from the grip of addiction and get on the path of recovery. The program in Hunterdon ranks second among those throughout the state in the success rate for helping link individuals to treatment and getting on a path of recovery, according to a press release from Drug-Free NJ.

The Hunterdon medical community also make it a top priority to discuss non-opioid alternatives with their patients.

“We have become more aware of the dangers of these drugs and we try to educate our patients about alternatives to opioids with hopes to make a difference in this epidemic,” Mehta said.

Prevention methods within local schools were of particular concern to Moore, who stressed the importance of addressing mental health issues among our youth and building positive habits to help keep them drug-free.

 “While it’s true that the frequency of overdoses is greater for those older than high school students, we know that the habits for abuse — and habits against abuse — can be built in schools,” he said.

Hunterdon Central High School offers counseling services to students and has increased its number of Student Assistance Counselors (SACS) within the school, assigning one counselor per grade.

Heather Ogden an Advocacy Coordinator with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, shared her own experience battling substance use - beginning as a teenager - and her journey through recovery.

“I was very fortunate to have a family that wanted me to get well,” she said. “Recovery is possible, and there are a lot more people out there than you know. They are just not talking about it yet.”

More than 3,000 people died from drug overdoses in New Jersey in 2018, a majority of which were opioid-related. Nationwide, more than 47,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2017, and official figures for 2018 could exceed that total.

Since January of 2019, there have been a total of 11 opioid overdoses and a total of 8 naloxone administrations in Flemington.

Hunterdon County is the third county to form an Overdose Fatality Review Team to review confidential overdose death cases to prevent future overdose deaths. Bastola discussed plans to expand the program to all 21 counties in New Jersey.

“We need to use data to identify and bring policy changes to the county, state, and ultimately on a national level,” said Bastola.

The town hall was the sixth community event in the continuation of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse initiative, a two-year initiative focusing on addressing the opioid epidemic through community outreach, prescriber education, parent education and a statewide campaign to increase awareness of the crisis.

To see a video of the Hunterdon Medical Center Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall or to see the fall schedule of upcoming town halls, visit knockoutopioidabuse.drugfreenj.org. The website also features information on scheduled town halls and a look into the lives of state residents who have been affected by the opioid epidemic. It also includes an online continuing medical education program for prescribers and information on parent education through the Knock Out Opioid Abuse 5th Grade Parent Alert.