Drug summit shines spotlight on problem

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:49

    SUSSEX COUNTY-A "smack down" on heroin? Here in Sussex County? Paraphrasing an oft-used expression, it seems we are not in Kansas anymore, we are in a crisis. Becky Carlson, coordinator of the Sussex County Coalition for Healthy and Safe Families and the Center for Prevention and Counseling, delivered some startling statistics regarding heroin use in the county. "Five years ago we had not one overdose; since 2000 there have been 51 deaths," she said. To inform and educate the populace, a county-wide drug summit was held last week in Branchville, attended by members of the community with varied interests ranging from law enforcement, medical professionals, parents, teachers, business owners and teenagers. Sponsored by the Center for Prevention and Counseling, Newton Memorial Hospital, Sussex County Narcotic Task Force, Sussex County Department of Education, the New Jersey Herald, Sussex County Community College, and Selective Insurance Company, the meeting was held at the insurance company's headquarters in Branchville. "Drugs are not one person's problem," said Carlson. "Drugs are in our community, and we are trying to educate and get everyone on board. "The focus (today) is on heroin because only seven years ago, we did not hear of it," she went on. "Now it's a huge problem and appears on the police blotter on a weekly basis." She noted that heroin is a particular problem locally because the average purity of the drug sold in New Jersey is 71 percent compared to a national average of 39 percent. The more potent the drug, the greater the chance of overdoses. Prescription drugs are a growing problem among all groups, Carlson said. A survey taken just a week ago disclosed that one of five teens has abused prescription drugs, and they are now being referred to as "Generation RX." Carlson said the most commonly misused prescription drugs are vicodin, oxycontin, ritalin and adderall, according to a report from the Partnership for a Drug Free America. Teenagers from Hopatcong Kids for Kids wrote and performed a skit following the "cycle of addiction." Its theme was the short life of a girl who begins her teenage years with high ideals, and when those ideals are compromised, she winds up dead. Dr. David G. Mattes, Chief of Emergency Services at Newton Memorial Hospital, warned that there are three elements contributing to drug use - availability, time, and money. Regarding availability, he said, "Drugs are a part of life." He recommended that as they are everywhere, we should check our refrigerators, check our medicine cabinets, check anywhere old prescriptions drugs can be found and destroy them. "Free time is the worst thing for a human being," said Mattes. He believes that keeping busy is an asset to prevention, as anyone studying and working would find it "hard to find time to mess around with drugs." And last of all, there's money. Mattes asked rhetorically, "Where are they getting the money? If you're not working, you're getting the money from your parents." Indicating that parent awareness is crucial, he warned parents against trying to be their child's best friend, and recounted a story of a local 11-year-old who was growing marijuana in his bedroom. Mattes concluded, "Don't believe it can't happen to you. Be aware. Stay in touch with what's going on." Leslie B. Malnak, a substance abuse counselor in Denville and Sparta focused on heroin use and why it's becoming so prevalent. "What is it about heroin? What makes it so great?" Malnak asked. Answering her own question, she likened a heroin high to a "first love experience, the exhilaration, excitement, contentment, when nothing else matters," and suggested that this is only a glimpse into a heroin high. She explained that rehabilitation for this drug is so difficult because, "It is the death of a love." Christine Bulko, assistant coordinator, explained some of the terminology of drug use and advised teachers and parents to listen for these terms. For example, a "bowling party" is where all the participants bring many and varied types of prescription drugs to the party, place them all in a large mixing bowl, shuffle them around, take a handful, and see what happens. For further information, contact The Center for Prevention and Counseling at 973-383-4787 or visit centerforprevention.org.