Dear Editor,
 
There is a drug epidemic in our country, state and even closer to home, right here in Basking Ridge.  
 
 
The epidemic requires a community wide coalition of concerned citizens and government agencies to compliment the work of police and social services because a patchwork response will not impact the problem in a constructive way.  Gov. Chris Christie has signed a waiver allowing first responders to carry and administer medication to treat drug overdose patients in emergency situations.  Narcan, which counteracts the effects of heroin and other opioid drugs is administered through a nasal spray or injection into a muscle.  Although the governors waiver is helpful in saving people from the brink of death by overdose, I would hope that we could also put our effort into preventing our youth from becoming addicts in the first place.
 
The Municipal Alliance has been wonderful in bringing attention to this matter with it's "Pills to Heroin" presentation that brought out 400+ members of the community including me, my husband and my eighth grade son.  It was amazing!  The Alliance is continuing the dialogue in a series of three additional presentations (a flyer with topics and dates was in the 4/18 Bernards Twp. District Friday Folder).  Although I would prefer spending my time adding light hearted experiences to the lives of those I touch, it is necessary to be real about what is going on so that we can make progress in our response to it.  Just like an addict can't help themselves until they admit there is a problem, parents in town must admit that there is a real problem and take action to help our children, our township families and our community as the epidemic will not improve without our making time and putting forth some sincere efforts.

 
One misconception is that elementary school families don't need to be involved as it doesn't effect them.  This could not be further from the truth as in the blink of an eye those families will find themselves in the middle of the war on drugs and it will be worse!  It is even more important that these families become more involved and proactive.
 
One way to get involved is to become a member of the parent coalition that was formed by two Basking Ridge mothers called Parents4SubstanceFreeKids.  I am a member of the group and have found it informative.  They are working in collaboration with Bernards Township Schools BOE, Municipal Alliance and local law enforcement to implement change to protect our children against substance abuse.  They have various suggestions to accomplish this such as Random Drug Testing with an opt out policy, Safe Homes, Community Wide Parent Campaign, and Parent to Parent forums.  They truly want parents to be informed and for conversations to continue that help us brainstorm ideas that move us towards the common goal of preventing our children from falling prey to drug and alcohol abuse as well as helping those who are struggling with abuse.  To become a member either email parents4substancefreekids@gmail.com or request membership on their Facebook page at Parents4SubstanceFeeKids.  There are over 250 members and growing daily!  
 
Frank Howlett, Principal of Ridge High brought this situation to light twice in the past but did not get enough parental support to make any changes and the BOE voted to keep the status quo.  We can't afford to make this mistake again!  Our children are starting younger and younger to experiment with drugs and alcohol so William Annin MIddle School is were prevention measures should start.  There have been too many deaths in our community attributed to drugs. We are in the heat of battle and don't have time to waste as more deaths are likely.
 
Random Drug Testing with an opt out policy is one of the suggested solutions.  RDT is not a "gotcha" program.  It is intended for prevention not punishment.  RDT serves as a deterrent and reassures parents that their children have another tool in their tool box.  IT WILL NOT GO ON THE STUDENTS PERMANENT RECORD and Police and Teaching Staff would not be involved or notified.  There is no magic fix, so RDT would be used in conjunction with other programs such as parent education, more effective student education programs, possible drug dogs, breathalyzers at football games/prom etc.  I am hoping that the BOE doesn't miss the opportunity to make positive change because of politics.   Statistics can go either way depending on your point of view.  I hope that the BOE has the courage to look this beast in the eye and implement RDT in our high school.  If there was an "evidence based" program that was proven to solve this issue, our country would not have a problem.   This is why schools like Hunterdon Central have found that RDT is working and they continue to use it as a means to deter students and get others help.  Just today, I received and email from the US Dept. of Education who found a 5% monthly and yearly reduction in drug use when using RDT.  Every percentage point equals lives saved!  One life saved is priceless!
 
The next Board of Education Meeting is on Monday, April 28th in the William Annin Middle School auditorium at 7pm.  The BOE is giving an update on the Drug and Alcohol policies and procedures in our schools.  It is important you attend or email the BOE at boardmembersreply@bernardsboe.com and cc: (copy) Susan Morra at smorra@bernardboe.com (so she can give a copy to Michael Byrne, a board member that doesn't get emails) to voice your concerns.  Some board members have been proactive in educating themselves and reaching out to the parent group to work together to find the best plan of action for our school district.  I sincerely hope the other board members will keep open minds and working as diligently as these few.  
 
Together I feel we can make positive changes and appreciate that because of the public outcry and the reality that alcohol and drugs are killing our youth, the various groups in town are collaborating to save our youth, families, and community.
 
Elaine DiDario
Dyckman Place
Basking Ridge NJ