ROSELLE, NJ - As the opioid epidemic ravages New Jersey and the greater United States, reducing overdoses, drug-related crime and overall harm caused by opioids starts with small communities, where the impact of addiction hits hardest. The Roselle Everett Hatcher Prevention Coalition’s (REHPC) participation in the statewide “Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day,” now in its third year, is one such initiative that boroughs and townships across NJ hope will quell the scourge of drug abuse.

REHPC, an organization aiming to inform, connect and bring awareness about drug abuse to Roselle, works with the state to maintain a prevention-focused infrastructure that addresses the rising toll of drug abuse. Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau, Department of Children and Families Coordinator Hellen Quesada and Matt Birchenough, media coordinator for Drug-Free New Jersey, lead about a dozen Abraham Clark High School students throughout the borough to disseminate literature and raise awareness about opioids.

“I don’t have a personal experience with opioid abuse, but my soccer coach has talked about past players who were affected and got really messed up in the long run,” said 16-year-old Darren Newell. “This is a great way to help out the community and let people know what they’re getting their hands into if they choose to use opioids.”

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In 2016, opioid-related deaths in NJ spiked to 16 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse — 20.3 percent more than the national average. NJ Cares, a real-time dashboard of opioid-related data and information under the Department of Law and Public Safety, estimates 95 suspected overdose deaths in Union County alone in 2018, as well as 528 administrations of the overdose-reversing medication Nalaxone.

“Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day,” organized by the Partnership for A Drug-Free New Jersey and the Community Coalition for a Safe & Health Morris, takes place every October 6 in cooperation with the NJ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. The state’s prevention and treatment communities, local leaders and concerned citizens mobilize to educate the public about the link between prescription medications and illegal opioids.

“I was really impressed by the number of students and people mobilizing around this issue in Roselle. It’s not the easiest thing getting teenagers to do something like this on a Saturday morning,” Birchenough said. “This is an issue that affects people across all age groups, races and income levels -- it’s important that local communities get involved and spread awareness about the dangers of these drugs.”

Roselle is one of the fortunate New Jersey municipalities that receives $125,000 a year in funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration until 2021, according to Dansereau. It uses the grant to strengthen REHPC, encourage community collaboration in support of local efforts to prevent youth substance use and implement environmental strategies aimed at the reduction of marijuana and opioid use.

“This has been an ongoing journey — Roselle has always been about educating to make sure our community is as healthy as possible and aware of the dangers of any kind of addictive drug,” Dansereau added, “I've spoken to many people as mayor who have shared with me what a challenging journey it has been to find support in order to go into recovery. We need a lot more help for people that are already addicted, and part of that is prevention. No one sets out to become an addict.”

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