SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – In an effort to education students about the dangers and fatal consequences surrounding heroine and opioids, special informational assemblies were held at South Plainfield Middle and High School this week.

The Opioid Epidemic – A Perspective on Addiction workshops were provided to the school district through a partnership with St. Peter’s University Hospital and local law enforcement. On Oct. 25, three sessions were held to accommodate students in 7th through 12th grade; an additional workshop for parents and guardians will be held next week.

“There were 781 overdose deaths in New Jersey in 2014. My daughter Barbara was one of them,” Spotswood mom Jean Stevenson told the auditorium filled with high school freshman and sophomores. Barbara, who growing up played clarinet in the band, was a Girl Scout, and loved cheerleading, was just 27 years old.

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“I think of her every day. Our family is devastated by this loss,” said Stevenson after sharing a letter Barbara wrote to her during a period of sobriety. “I hope sharing Barbara’s story will help you.”

According to John Zebrowski, chief of the Sayreville Police Department, the opioid epidemic affects the ‘common, every day individual.’ “There are no stereotypes here…there is no one particular type of person that it inflicts,” Zebrowski said. “This issue, this crisis, this epidemic occurs at the high school level, it occurs at the middle school level, and it occurs at college and beyond…”

Popular opioids/opiates include Oxycodone (Percocet, Oxycnontin), Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab), Oxymorphone (Opana), and heroin as well as Codeine, Morphine, Methadone, Demerol, Fentanyl, and Loperamide (Imodium). While these drugs have been used in the United States since the 1800s, experts state that over the last 20 years, misuse has increased significantly.

Every day, 175 people in the United States die from a drug overdose, explained Marge Drozd, RN, MSN, APRN-BC, family nurse practitioner for St. Peter’s. In New Jersey, she said, Middlesex County had the highest growth rate for heroin-associated deaths – with 15 in 2010 and 78 in 2014 for a 420-percent increase in four years. Additionally, over the past 14 years, overdose deaths in the United States nearly quadrupled from 8,407 (in 2000) to 33,091 (in 2014) and, in 2015, an overdose was the cause of 52,404 deaths – more than firearms or vehicle accidents.

“This is truly a crisis and we are expecting it to be declared a public health emergency by the president within the next week or so. These statistics are mind boggling,” said Drozd.

SPHS Assistant Principal Robert Richkus compared the 33,000-plus deaths to the attendance of two sold out shows at the Prudential Center. “You hear these numbers and they don’t make a lot of sense, but if you think about it that way it brings it a little closer to home,” said Richkus, boldly adding, “Six years ago, you were all at a K-4 school going to carnival day. Six years from now, your classmates are dying from these addictions…”

According to Drozd, the opioid epidemic is ‘an American problem that does not extend to the rest of the world.’ She told the students that our country’s medical professionals have a tendency to ‘overprescribe’ and, in return, drugs are being ‘misused’ and being taken for recreational purposes rather than medical reasons.

“Addiction can develop within just five days and, if not taken properly, one wrong dose can lead to death,” Drozd said. “No one is immune.”

Chief Zebrowski urged the students to speak up if they know of a family member or friend in need and explained how, under the 2013 Overdose Prevention Act, witnesses and victims of drug overdoses are encouraged to seek medical assistance without legal consequences. He also discussed how Narcan, a drug used to reverse the affects of an overdose, is now available over the counter.

“We are open and receptive to helping and providing the treatment that is necessary as opposed to simply just providing enforcement,” Zebrowski said. “If you know someone who may be using drugs, who may be using opioids or heroine, you can get them help without repercussions…Make that phone call; that person is not going to go to jail, they are going to get help.”

South Plainfield High School Principal Ronnie Spring also urged the students to come to him, their teachers, guidance counselors, or the school’s resource officer Mike Sikanowicz if they or someone they know has a problem. We are all here for you and our doors are always open to you and here to help,” said Spring. “Please come to us.”

Following one of the workshops, TAPinto South Plainfield had the opportunity to speak with some SPHS students and get their take on the program and the problem.

“This is becoming a really big problem in New Jersey; those numbers are astonishing and it’s happening all around us,” SPHS junior SPHS junior Dylan Silverstein told TAPinto South Plainfield, adding that he was personally prescribed Percocet following shoulder surgery earlier this year. “I only took them for a couple of days but I could totally see how people would take more than what they need to and how doctors over prescribe,” he said.

Patrick Joyner, a SPHS sophomore, added, “We have been told all our lives not to do drugs, that they are bad and we can die, and everyone knows the results but yet it’s still going on because people think ‘oh that will never happen to me.’ I believe we need more of an understanding and realization of what is going on.”

“This is a pretty widespread problem and there’s no stereotype so you may not always know who is or isn’t doing it,” said SPHS senior Dania Mohtadi, noting that most recently, a friend of a friend’s overdose was posted on social media. “We see it happening around us in real life. Even though it may not effect me directly, it effects the people around me and that all ties in together.”

For parents and guardians, there will be an Opioid Epidemic – A Perspective on Addiction workshop on Thursday, Nov. 2 from 6-8 p.m. in the high school auditorium. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.

“The South Plainfield School District is honored to partner with St. Peter’s University Hospital and local law enforcement to educate our students and parents on the importance of the effects of opioids on our youth, families, and communities. By providing our community with information on the effects and consequences of using opioids, we may deter our youth from ever experimenting,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Noreen Lishak told TAPinto South Plainfield. “This is an epidemic in our state that needs to be addressed through education.”

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